Process Mapping: Begin at the Beginning

By: Mary Jane (MJ) Sill, FMA, Senior Project Manager 

So, you have been tasked with leading a process improvement initiative that, if successfully implemented, will help grow the business or reduce costs. Where do you get started? A systematic approach is always best, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. 

Even if you don’t normally do process improvement, you can succeed by following three key steps to get started: 

  1. Treat the improvement as a project 
  2. Make sure the subject matter experts (SMEs) are on the team 
  3. Map the current state

Of course, formalizing the project makes good sense and will set the goals, schedule and deliverables for the new initiative. And, if you’ve been given the lead on the project, your management believes you can assemble a mix of talent that really understands the issues and can help guide them to the ultimate solution. So, assemble your team of SMEs early in the process. 

However, it is Step 3 that is often overlooked. In a rush to make things better, the current state is often discussed in a more abstract form, with the final future state getting all of the attention. It is very much a misnomer that “everyone knows how it is now.” Truth be told, putting the SMEs in a room and trying to map the current way of business can be much harder than you think. Two trends emerge: 1) very few people would map the process identically, and 2) everyone forgets steps. You should plan for the current state mapping to take a couple of meetings. You won’t get it on the first try. Sticky notes and plotter paper on the wall are great tools to start figuring it out. Visio can come later. 

Since mapping the current state may take a few days, plan it into your project schedule and include it as a deliverable. It will be time well spent. Not only when you have a better direction for your future state, you will likely get there more quickly, and have better data and justification for implementing your future state. 

“If you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going”. Terry Pratchett, Author