How to Get Started with Process Mapping Effectively? [for Beginners]

Frameworks & Tools: How to Map Processes.

– Luca, my dear old friend!

– How’re you doing, Vasilij?

– You know, Luca, I’ve been recently appointed to this new position…

– Yeah, I’ve been told that: congratulations!

– Yes, yes, well, there’s plenty of work to be done.

– I can imagine. It must be tough. As far as I can see, this business line is closely intertwined with the other ones.

– You’re right: there are many synergies involved. Now, there’s one point on which I really need your help, Luca.

– What’s that?

– Karla told me that I need to ‘map processes’…

“Map Processes”: Situation Critical

“Karla”, the magic word that opens all doors. It took him forty full seconds to pronounce it. Normally, it would take less than twenty. The situation is critical.

– So, she told you must map processes, and…

– And, you know, I just can’t get back to her and say “what exactly do you mean by ‘map processes’”.

– I see.

– No better person than you in the company for this. I’ve thought: Luca can dedicate one hour to help me understand what I need to do.

Basics First: “You Don’t Need Me to Do Your Job”

Now my defense systems are on the alert. Level three of four.

– I will, Vasilij, but first let me pin down a couple basic concepts.

– Oh… sure!

– First, although you might not be familiar with it, process mapping is no esoteric discipline. In the end, it boils down to describing ‘who does what’.

– I follow you.

– Ok. More often than not, a good starting point is an organization chart.

– Yes! This one’s easy!

– Yeah, although you can’t always rely on this kind of documents, you usually can get a first, broad understanding of what roles are there in an organization. Different roles usually perform different tasks, you know?

– Ok, why did you say you can’t always rely on organization charts?

– Out-of-date… inaccurate… incomplete… Use them with a grain of salt, right?

– Da.

Battle Not Over

Apparently, this one went well, but the battle is not over, yet.

– At level-zero of your description, before you get into processes, you want to depict the whole business as one entity. This relates to one or more external actors through some kind of exchanges. These are what scientists call “inputs” and “outputs”.

– Like doing…

– Exactly! You can visualize it like one box right in the middle of the page, representing your business. The box is surrounded by one or more other boxes, representing third-party interacting entities. Arrows drawn to and from the central box represent inputs and outputs.

– Sure! The arrows…

– Don’t forget that in your case you sell services: the kind of exchanges with external actors is either information or money. If we sold goods, then we would probably exchange materials, too.

– Yes, I got the point.

Getting Deeper

– Then we can move to the first level of process analysis.

– Yes, let’s move!

– You’ll want to draw one slide or to write one page to describe what the main roles in the business are about. Even a simple spreadsheet table could do.

– Doesn’t seem too hard!

– Indeed! Start with a short list of the main process domains, like planning, sales, operations, vendor selection, billing and accounting, … Then write one  to three sentences to describe what roles are involved and what they do.

– Luca, you make process analysis seem so simple!

– One thing, Vasilij: I am using the word “analysis”, because we are talking about the current way it works, o.k.?

– O.k..

– If we were discussing how things should work, then we should more properly use the word “design”. Both analysis and design are equally legitimate, depending on your purpose.

– Oh…

– Also, you can hardly design for change without a good prior analysis of the status quo. Anyway, it’s crucial that you do not confuse the two concepts.

– I won’t, Luca!

– Fine!

Keep It Simple

We’re almost there

– Is that all, Luca?

– Usually yes, depending on your objectives. Beyond a certain level of detail, Vasilij, you need to describe a sometimes complicated sequence of tasks and decision points.

– Decision points…

– At this level, you probably need to use flowcharts, make a detailed inventory of tools that are used throughout the process flow, and so on…

– Ah…

– There, you would probably have reached the point where you need some concrete help to do the job. But, usually, this only happens in very specific cases

– For example?

– For example when you are designing information systems and tools to automate or support your processes.

– I don’t think this is my case.

– I don’t think, either. But beware: each time you move down one level, your work grows exponentially. You can do it in one hour, in one day, in one week or in one month!

– I don’t have one month!

– That’s why you need to establish the right level of analysis. To do so, you need to know in advance Karla’s exact purpose in giving you the job.

– Got it, Luca! This is what happens now: I’ll do my homework first, then we meet back for one more hour and you tell me if I’m on the right path, o.k.?

– Fine enough, Vasilij

– I am sending you an invitation for Monday, 9 am.


First round: ok. Though it won’t end here: don’t drop your guard, Luca!

Now, summarizing, four points:

  1. Answer the “why” question first;
  2. Decide the what: how deep you should go;
  3. Do a first draft, down to the first level;
  4. If that’s not enough, consider getting help.

Hope this is useful, next time somebody asks you to “map your processes”.

Has anybody ever asked you to describe, or “map”, your processes? What was their objective: strategic decision making, operational improvement, automation? Use the comments area below to describe the main difficulty you have faced, in a few lines. Subscribe to my channel if you haven’t done it, yet, so you make sure you won’t miss the next episode

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