Business Process Mapping: Five Things Your Employees Can't Tell You
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Every business runs on processes. There are the processes you can see (like raw materials becoming finished goods at a factory), and there are the processes you can’t (like invoices being created, sent, and paid). The best way to get a handle on these processes is to create process maps.
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A business process map is a visual representation of a workflow that lays out all of the steps and stages of a process. Process maps are used in business process management (BPM) initiatives to give business leaders a clear picture of how a process is running so that improvements can be designed and implemented, and process standards can be developed.
Business processes evolve over time
All business processes change and morph with time and staffing turnover. Ad hoc processes can develop alongside established ones, or side processes may be created without anyone realizing that it’s happening. To keep the business running smoothly and efficiently, these and other inefficiencies need to be identified and brought into compliance.
While workers often recognize that a non-conforming process is inefficient, they often don’t realize that the inefficiency stems from a process deviation. All they know is that this is how they do their tasks, and that this is how they’ve always done them. Many may not even know of a process standard, should one exist. We’ve identified five non-conforming process issues that employees often won’t, or can’t, explain.
#1 Ad hoc parallel processes
SIde, or parallel, processes develop over time and are generally traced back to overly complex process steps. Without tight supervision and a clearly defined process standard, employees will develop their own way to accomplish their tasks. New employees are then shown these ad hoc steps and the new, non-conforming process takes root.
The problem in identifying these extraneous process steps is that once they become the norm, employees will no longer consider them non-standard and won’t report them in interviews. This, in turn, leads to their going unnoticed for long periods of time, and any effect they may have on output becomes untraceable without better visibility into the process.
#2 Redundant process steps
Process redundancies generally occur with staff turnover. An employee from a different department may take over temporarily while a replacement is found and hired, and then just keep doing these steps even after that new hire is on board.
Without a good overview of what the process should look like, these redundancies can be hard to spot as the output likely won’t be negatively impacted. The impact is in the loss of time and effort.
Process bottlenecks can occur for as many reasons as can be thought up.
Raw materials can get backed up at a station while someone is on break.
Data being transferred at peak time can cause network slowdowns.
A process step may take less time than it used to, while the following steps continue apace, leading to a workflow blockage while the downstream steps try to catch up.
As before, the problem with employee interviews is that those involved may not realize that this situation is non-conforming. The workers involved likely see this situation as “how it’s always been,” and not bother reporting it as an inconsistency. A full process map that can be compared to the ideal, standardized process is the only way to effectively locate such bottlenecks.
#4 Process gaps
Like bottlenecks, gaps can often go undetected by the workers involved, not out of spite or because people aren’t observant, but rather simply because they’ve never known the process to work any other way. What a third-party auditor might recognize as a glaring hole in a process may look like business as usual to the people on the ground.
Lack of well understood standards is often a key issue in allowing this state to develop and gaps to persist. There needs to be both a standard process map and an “as-is” map for comparison, so that the full depth of these inconsistencies can be realized and addressed.
#5 Overall process inefficiencies
This is a bit of a catch-all category. Over time, and without close monitoring and known standards to adhere to, processes can fall out of compliance and become inefficient. These inconsistencies can look like those described above, or they can take other forms:
- Is a single worker responsible for a foundational task, so that if that person is out sick the process can’t be completed?
- Is an employee manipulating data to make it fit into another system, when the data could be provided pre-cleaned to streamline this step?
- Or maybe an entire set of steps could be automated, and the employees involved could put their time and energy to better use on intuitive or creative tasks.
Once again, it’s only in attaining transparency into the end-to-end process that all inefficiencies, non-conforming processes, and other inconsistencies can be rooted out and improvements designed and implemented.
Process mining helps obtain the "as-is" process map
Business processes evolve over time. Employee turnover, combined with lax monitoring of processes and a lack of established process standards, can lead to many inefficiencies appearing in nearly any business process across an organization. These inefficiencies can go unnoticed for quite some time, becoming business-as-usual without anyone realizing what’s happened.
Process mining results in a real-time “as-is” process map, using event logs left behind by most IT systems. This interactive map is the ideal starting point for identifying and eliminating most process inefficiencies. By using the up-to-the-minute data in a process mined map, standards can be developed and baselines established so that non-conforming processes can be updated.
And by bringing business processes up to standard, overhead can be cut, employees can be trained on the standard version of the process, and future issues can be headed off before they have time to develop.