How do you get work accomplished in your organization? You could point to an organization chart and say “that’s how work gets done here.” But an organization chart shows individual job positions and reporting relationships, not how works gets done.
A more useful answer is to look at your work processes in the form of a process map. You can take an organizational chart and see that work flows horizontally, from sales through design, production, delivery and service.
A process is a series of definable and repeatable steps that transform an input into a output for a customer. Every organization gets work done through processes. The sales person takes an inquiry (input) has a sales conversation (process) and produces an output (a sales order). The production worker takes supplies (inputs) assembles the parts (process) and produces an output (a product).
Why do we want to know what our work processes are? First, we want to standardize the work. A documented process or work “As Is” allows us to train everyone in the same approach, define requirements and achieve consistently and better quality. Second, we want to improve the work. Processes clearly define the work and allow us to improve work.
Standardizing work means defining and documenting work processes, usually with a process map or flowchart. The flowchart defines who does the work, the activities, decisions, documents, hand-offs to other people and the flow between each of these steps. It also identifies inputs and outputs. The map can include suppliers, and define requirements from suppliers. Similarly, the map defines customers and their requirements.
Once we have defined and documented existing processes, we can now manage our work more effectively. We can focus on achieving customer satisfaction, synchronizing process activities and improve processes.
The main tool we use to define and manage processes is the Process map. It visually shows how work flows through functions in the organization. It defines how a particular input is produced by an activity, what decisions are made, what documents are produced and process activities convert inputs to inputs.
When you prepare a process map you gain insights into the work, how work flows, and are able to identify problem areas. Maps uncover things you don’t know, and provides an “ah-ha” moment. Interestingly, when I facilitate team meetings to prepare flowcharts, individuals usually have differences of opinions as to what the real process is. Even people who are responsible for doing the same work! After some discussion and compromise, the team arrives at a consensus on the process they will follow.
During the process mapping exercise we look at three levels of detail. At the highest, most general level we have a basic flowchart, just the key steps in the process. For some reason, almost every process has between 5 and 7 steps.
Then we drill down into more detail for each major step. With the Level 2 defines the step by step value added activities. And then the Level 3 map has even more detail as needed.
Once the process is defined, we go ahead and find ways to improve the process. We look for and eliminate bottlenecks, unnecessary steps, make processes parallel rather than sequential and so on. We can then prepare a “Desired State” flowchart, test it out, revise it and then implement the new way of work.
After you’ve learned the basics of process mapping, you will find it easy to define and improve work. The benefits from standard work using process maps are faster training, more consistency and better quality. Then you can improve work by analyzing the process map and learn to see where work does not flow, there are problems, and how to simplify and stream your work.
Jeff Pallister is an author, speaker and management consultant. He is a specialist in assisting business owners increase the value and sellability of their companies. For further information, visit http://www.improvementprograms.com