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Process Mapping | Introduction…

Process mapping provides us with the ability to identify root causes of waste in our process. This is where we map out the series of tasks, actions or steps which deliver a product or service.

Processes should start and end with the customer. The end state should be to have processes which are visible and accurate with minimal (or no) waste or defects. In a Lean process all activities should flow so there’s no queuing or waiting. In turn, this will make our processes predictable so we can confidently deliver service to meet our customer requirements consistently.

We achieve this through a range of Lean tools and techniques and we utilise process mapping to support the identification of and removal of waste. In order to understand what happens in a process we need to go to Gemba (the actual place of work), see what really happens and support this with data.

Once we understand the As-is we then have the opportunity to design lean process with a To-be future state.



What to remember when designing Lean processes:

  • Minimum hand-offs (each hand-off is an additional opportunity for failure)
  • The removal of re-work loops (we keep items on the ‘happy path’)
  • We want a process which effortlessly flows (we eradicate the queue)
    • We remove bottle necks in the process
    • Avoid batches
  • We minimise the number of defects
  • We have a means to measure the process and ensure it remains in control
  • The process is visual
  • We design process confirmation to ensure the best process is repeated to provide a consistent way of working
  • We seek to continuously improve the process – today’s best practice can be superseded by a better way of doing things
  • We proactively share best practices

Lean Process Mapping | Points to consider

There are numerous different types of process mapping. Here at we prefer 4feilds mapping and Value Stream Mapping. The following are generic points to consider:

  1. What level are you going to map at – the lower the level the more level of detail
    1. At the most detailed process level i.e. key strokes these would be classed as procedures. Best deployed for operational team improvements
    2. At a top level just 5 or 6 key process items –a high level process i.e. a SIPOC is good way to be introduced to a new team and gain a level of understanding on what the team does
    3. What are you going to capture – linked to the level – what information do you want to capture?
      1. The activity
      2. The team who do it?
      3. The system they use
      4. The time they take
      5. Possible routes etc, etc.
  2. Having a PHD in symbols…. We say this a little flippantly due to past projects where colleagues have been somewhat hooked up on the symbols rather than the objectives of the task in hand. That said it is a good idea to use a standard process mapping naming convention and this we do encourage. There are recognised standards which can be employed. The key here is be consistent and consistent with what is deployed for your organisation – don’t spend hours debating
  3. What is the scope – this is key as when beginning to discuss processes people can easily become distracted and lose focus. It is amazing how quickly time can be lost – be prepared to reign people back in
  4. Focus on what actually happens and not what should happen
  5. Involve those who do the process this is a group exercise
  6. Identify the waste categorise the activity steps
    1. Red – Non-value Add
    2. Green – Value add
    3. Blue – Business Value Add (be careful on the overuse of this categorisation)

Beware! False Change

We have been in numerous organisations where a lot of energy is expanded on process mapping, hours, days and sometimes even weeks are exhausted on workshops mapping out processes. However, at the end of this little to nothing comes of it and in some situations the processes are not even reviewed. This leads to a lot of annoyance after the hours and effort is devoted to the activity. The worse situation is where colleagues believe that ‘real’ change is forthcoming – when this doesn’t materialise the impact is very negative

How to…. Perform Lean Process Mapping?

How you conduct your process mapping exercise will depend in part on the method of process mapping which you decide upon. However in addition to the generic points above is the following guidance:

  1. Agree the process which is being reviewed (it is likely there will be other tools and techniques deployed to help assess this – so you focus on those items which drive the biggest returns)
  2. Conduct the workshop in a large room which can accommodate:
    1. Numerous colleagues from across the process and perhaps supporting functions, data etc
    2. Large brown paper (or multiple flip-chart paper) spread across a flat wall
  3. Agree the naming convention/format – i.e. use yellow post-it notes for an activity, green post-it notes to record resources, pink for systems etc (or whatever approach you use). This helps to visually understand at a glance what is going on
  4. Scribe down the top level process onto post-it notes (avoid marking the paper for now as it will limit ability to move things around – and you will be moving items around!)
  5. Work from left to right on the process steps
    1. As you do this you will often see that not all items follow the ‘happy path’. Ask for typical values (attempt to validate later) on how much volume falls off the happy path. If the %Volume is sufficient then map the un-happy path separately, but bring the current focus back to the task in-hand so not to confuse the two
    2. It is not uncommon to have multiple unhappy paths! In this sense we see them as opportunity so their recognition is to be encouraged!
  6. Utilise your facilitation skills to check the alignment of outputs and Inputs to the objectives of the session:
    1. Outputs
      1. If the output is not matching objectives check if the process is captured accurately – or is a full process redesign required (this is a sometimes laid critic of Lean that it takes existing processes and improves them, where sometimes the existing process constrains potential thinking and thus a new process should be mapped from scratch)
      2. If there are more outputs from the process than expected question the validity and seek to eliminate
      3. Check with the recipients of the output, do they require it
    2. Inputs
      1. Now check all the inputs do they all directly contribute towards the output?
      2.  Any that do and their removal would prevent the process from function are generally good and necessary
      3. Any that do not should be assessed to be eliminated – work with the supplier to do this
      4. Any that are ‘nice to have’ question their validity – what do you get from this ‘nice to have’ – starting point is to remove unless a convincing view as to why it should remain
  7. As a group review the overall process flow – does it resonate with all? If after time differences of opinion remain note them and assess by reviewing at Gemba
  8. Throughout the process encourage participation – if necessary bring more quieter members of the group into play
  9. Encourage active challenge to how things are done
  10. Ensure you capture all the data you require – once the session is over momentum and goodwill of people’s time can quickly dissipate, be focused and purposeful in your session
  11. Agree any follow up actions from the session there and then
  12. Capture all of the information into a document (s)
    1. In doing so maintain version control – it is inevitable things may come to light after the session – effective facilitation should minimise this (Process Mapping Software)
    2. Capture a high-level view which is a summary which can easily be socialised with senior stakeholders and added to an A3 Problem Solving tool if this process mapping forms a part of this exercise.

Process Map - Example Finding....

An extreme case of checking an output…. In an previous shared services assignment:

Team A on receiving a batch of files electronically would as part of a process scan the items so they were recorded electronically before sending off to Team B

Team B’s first process activity on receiving the batch of files from Team A electronically was to print all of the files off

Team A had no idea Team B required the files in print to perform their task and Team B had no idea that Team A expanded time as part of their process to scan and electronically upload the files. Creating unnecessary waste two-fold in both teams!

Process Mapping FAQ’S

What is VSM?

Value Stream Mapping (VSM) takes process mapping to another level. Its completion generates a lot of Lean measurement data which can be utilised to baseline and then improve upon.

Some people can get very caught up in the ‘right’ symbols to be used – we have once heard this referred to as having a PHD in symbols but driving no value!

So the key here is not to over complicate this – but do be sure to use symbols that are consistent with teh organisation and certainly consistent within the process.

What is IDEF?

IDEF is a form of process mapping and stands for Integrated DEFinition.

IDEF focuses on the functions or logical steps within a process.

IDEF records 4 elements for each activity:

  1.  Input (what it is where it has come from)
  2. Output (what it is and where it goes to)
  3. Mechanisms (the people, teams, systems required for the activity)
  4. Controls (limitations or restrictions on the activity)

IDEF has a range of levels which reflect the level the process is being mapped at. Level 0 is the highest level – less detail, with levels 1, 2, 3 breaking down the information to a lower level.

Each level has 3-6 process steps. This approach helps to keep the mapping concise and also focused on the appropriate level of detail.

What is Process Confirmation?

Process confirmation is a set approach to ensuring processes are performing as intended. A key premise of six-sigma is for processes which are repeatable, predictable, high-level of quality (minimal defects) with limited variance. Process confirmation is a tool that helps to ensure this.

Process confirmation will often be in the form of checklist which team members, managers and leaders will use to check that the process is being delivered to set standards.

This is an often overlooked part of six-sigma and lean projects, but its simple in application and can have a tremendous impact on the sustainability of projects.

Done effectively it allows for reinforcement of the right behaviours and spots issues before they get out of control.

The full | Lean A-Z Glossary

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