Analysing processes

Some processes work well, others don’t.  Process mapping helps you identify what’s working well and what’s not.  You can then prioritise to drive real and quantifiable improvement.

So, what is a process?

All work is undertaken in a process.  They start with some kind of trigger or an “input” for doing something, “stuff” then gets done and then there is an “output”, usually to some other process or activity.

A process then is the way we work to produce an outcome; a sequence of actions, activities and choices and any process will need, to varying degrees, some of the following:

  • Resources – people and equipment to do the “stuff”
  • Methods – which define the “stuff” that needs to be done
  • Measures – which define whether or not the “stuff done” has been successful

This can be seen diagrammatically, on what’s called a turtle diagram, below

At Statius, we would breakdown the core activities of most organisations into a simplified flow of work based on the very general idea that most organisations have three “core processes”:

  • Get job – marketing and sales
  • Do job – operations and delivery
  • Bill job – finance and accounts

It’s always more complicated than this and any map of these processes needs to reflect the way in which your work works, but let’s start simple and build in complexity, rather than the other way round.

Why bother mapping them?

The obvious, and to some extent clichéd, answer is “a picture paints 1000 words”.  But clichés are clichés for a reason.  They are usually true.

In most organisations “stuff” simply gets done and there is often surprisingly little consideration as to “how” it gets done, process mapping allows us to do a number of things:

  • To define and see (perhaps for the first time) how tasks are undertaken
  • To look at the interactions between activities, people and other processes
  • To examine and understand performance
  • To eliminate messes and chaos
  • To record current process knowledge or best practise
  • To create documents which can be used to train or induct new staff

Types of process mapping

There are several different types of process maps.  What we would call the “Core Activity Map” is really a top level process map sometimes called a value stream map.  At a lower level there are also a few other types of process map:

  • Basic flowcharts provide the primary details of a process; inputs, activities and outputs.
  • Deployment flowcharts (sometimes called cross-functional flowcharts). These flowcharts use swim-lanes to show how process flow from people and teams across the company. They make it easier to spot bottlenecks or redundancies. (This is our favourite type of flow chart)
  • Detailed process flowcharts showing the real detail of a process.

Process mapping principles

So, if process mapping is a good idea what are the principles that sit behind it?

  • All process should have a “purpose” why specifically is this task being undertaken, what benefit does it add?
  • All processes will have a beginning and an end
  • All processes will have inputs – the trigger that sets the process off
  • All processes will have outputs – the result of doing the work
  • All processes will link to other processes
  • All processes should have an owner

Additionally, some processes will be short and simple, others will be long and complex.

If you’re about to map your processes, ideally it should be done with the people that do the work.  Supervisors and managers can sometimes be too detached from the work actually being undertaken “at the coalface”.

Finally, in most instances it is best, at least initially, to map the “as is” process, “warts ‘n’ all”.

Process mapping

As an example we’ve taken a very basic process, making a cuppa for a friend and plotted out various activities.

Clearly the level of detail can be adjusted to suit the purpose of the activity involved.  The flow chart could be (slightly) less detailed and it could be significantly more detailed:

        •  We have made the assumption that tea is the required and only drink. We could have asked a some up front questions:  Would you prefer hot or cold drink? Would you prefer tea, coffee or even hot chocolate?
        • We could have added steps relating to where the milk and sugar were obtained from or perhaps something about placing the milk back in the fridge
        • We could have consulted the new friend about the strength and colour of the tea adding in a feedback loop in order to get to the desired strength and colour

The point is you need to make the process map as detailed as is useful to you.



Using process maps to drive improvement

The first stage is usually to gather a team together; obviously the people undertaking the work but also perhaps the people providing the inputs to the process and indeed those receiving the outputs.  The team would then map the “as is” process.   It is also critically important at this stage to understand the current process performance.  If this stage is neglected it will be impossible, at any later point, to determine if an improvement has been made, as starting point was not properly understood.   A much more detailed “How To” can be found in the download link below.

Once the “as is” process has been understood it can be examined by the team to:

  • Ensure that current performance standards of the process are understood
  • Examine the process to identify problem areas
    • Non value adding steps
    • Missing steps illogical and connections
    • Rework loops
  • Examine the process to
    • Quantify the cost and frequency of problem issues
    • Prioritise (using pareto analysis) the “vital few” problems from the “trivial many”
  • Work to eliminate the above issues
  • Consult with others; customers, suppliers other people and departments

Once the changes have been made a new assessment of current performance can be undertaken.  There is a particularly useful, and to my mind underused, part of managements armoury that is especially useful at this stage.  It goes by the horrible name of Statistical Process Control (SPC) and looks at performance data in a way that enables “signals” to be separated from “noise”, something we prefer to call Process Prediction Charting (PPC)


Process mapping is a great tool for understanding how people and processes work together to deliver value for clients.  The biggest benefits of process mapping is that:

  • It gets a team together to think about how the work really works
  • The output of which is a picture which defines the interactions that may never have previously been seen

Once the interactions are known and understood time, effort and potentially money can be applied to smoothing processes and practises which should result in more effective and more efficient processes delivering products and services at a lower cost!


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