When describing the work of process mapping to friends and family, I often find that my narrative is met by a confused audience eager to get back to their dinner. Process-based thinking is a skill that must be developed and practiced, and understanding the underlying concepts required for application is difficult in the interim. This beginner's guide to process mapping will have you on your way to understanding process mapping, a vital competency for professionals in business and public organizations.
Processes are all around us. Getting ready for work in the morning is a process, making spaghetti and meatballs when you get home is a process, and much of what you do at work is a process. To get started, think about how you would describe your job as a process or a series of processes. Perhaps you manage many processes, or maybe you represent only a single component of a larger process involving many different people and departments. The product or service we produce in our work does not magically appear; a process is required.
A Process is the Sum of its Parts
A process is made up of many different parts. First, it is important to understand the roles played by the customer and the supplier. A customer receives something of value from the process. This product can be physical or intellectual, or it can be a service that is provided. Suppliers deliver a product of value to the process. Once again, this product can be physical or intellectual. Both customers and suppliers can be internal or external to the business.
Wedged in between the customer and the supplier is the process itself. The process is the transformation that occurs in and around the product before it is supplied to the customer. The process adds value to the product, ensuring that it is of acceptable quality and delivered successfully. A process is made up of a collection of tasks and requires many different inputs and outputs along the way. Inputs can be individuals or teams, subject matter experts, or documents such as templates, instructions, or requests. Each task requires one or several of these inputs and then an output is produced. Outputs can be changes made to a database, documents that demonstrate approval or changes made, or simply an altered product. As the process moves from task to task, data is collected and decisions are made.
A Process Must Create Value
At the end of the process, the supplier provides the customer with a product of value. The product should have a greater value than it did before the process was completed.
Process mapping is beneficial because it uncovers a wealth of opportunities for improvement along the way. Tasks that delay cycle time are re-evaluated, methods of delivery are updated, and red tape and cumbersome operations are exposed. Once the process is clearly mapped, a Process Improvement Plan (PIP) can be implemented to achieve the best method for consistently creating something of value to the customer.
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