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Managing Processes

Updated: Jul 20, 2018

With the range of personalities and ways of thinking, how does everyone understand how work is accomplished, the same way, every time?

Modern management is moving away from managing personality, towards managing processes. Bringing together the bits and pieces of the great knowledge your people already possess. Coordinating that knowledge with a process diagram.

Where ISO 9001:2008 used specific terminology such as “document” or “documented procedures”, “quality manual” or “quality plan”, the ISO 9001:2008 edition defines the requirements to “maintain documented information.”

However, this is not to say that no documentation is required. There is still a need to maintain documents that are deemed necessary by the organization to fulfill its mission. After all, documentation based on usefulness is just good business practices. In many cases that means documenting repeatable processes and procedures to ensure resilience, quality, consistency, and maintainability/improvement. This is consistent with the newly stated ‘risk-based’ approach adopted elsewhere in the standard.

In the past, documented procedures were text based. With each step described in chronological order. However, as the steps include tests, decisions and other complexities, the sentence structure becomes too complicated for easy understanding.

Flow diagrams were added for clarification. Unfortunately, many efforts produced procedures where it is difficult to match the flow diagram to the text. Occasionally, the text & diagram were in conflict. When flow diagrams were used as a replacement for text, the descriptor in the boxes became stilted and unclear.

What evolved is a hybrid of a Flow Chart to graphically describe the larger procedural activities, combined with ‘Work Instructions’ to describe the detailed actions necessary to accomplish those actions.

What Does Mapping a Process Do?

Process mapping involves describing the sequence of activities that make the process happen: inputs, outputs, activity and support items.

  • Shows the order of activities, decisions, tests and other complexities to accomplished work

  • Encourages standard and consistent outcomes

  • Shows how workers depend on each other

  • Captures knowledge in the process, not people’s heads

  • Assists prediction of how components are
effected by change

The visual aspect is key: If pictures are worth one thousand words, then a well-executed process map could be worth one million dollars (or more) in decision-making power. But the benefits go beyond making it easier to understand or simple to grasp.

Why Map Processes

1. Enables everyone to see the process in the same way.

When you involve everyone in the process mapping exercise, each person is empowered to enact positive change within your organization. The first aspect of empowerment comes from a key human trait: a sense of camaraderie in physical presence.

Physical human presence draws immediacy to the task at hand in a way that other form of communication cannot match. The impact of mapping and streamlining the process imprints the positive experience on the minds of everyone involved. Employees feel the power of collaboration and don’t feel alone in the face of a menacing problem.

2. See The Big Picture

This is a commonly praised attribute of process mapping, and it’s often glossed over too quickly. Yes, both you and your staff understand a process better when you see the whole thing visually diagramed, but there’s more to it.

First, the mapping exercise connects everyone to the process as you’re diagramming it. They feel the pain, frustration and confusion of their fellow team members. That creates organizational empathy, priming the team to create a solution that works for everyone.

Second, a finished – and improved – process map provides a clear vision of the future. It’s one thing to map how the process works in the present, but after pinpointing problems and proposing solutions, you have the ability to re-map the process to what it should be. Now, with the big picture in hand, employees are able to carry out improvements with a shared vision in mind.

Third, it makes employees more aware of how their work affects everyone else’s. Employee A won’t take so long when sending his work in, or Administrator B now knows to check in if she hasn’t heard from Manufacturing by the 15th, because everyone else down the line is waiting and frustrated.

3. Compliance And Auditing

Working in any organization with complex compliance and audit requirements makes a simple process immediately more intricate. Fortunately, process mapping helps with that too.

When implementing new compliance procedures, review the current process map. Something may have changed since the last time you mapped, so be detailed. Then, redesign your process map to include the new compliance requirements. This communicates the importance of the new procedures to everyone and gives team members specific compliance ownership of their tasks.

When it comes time for an audit or certification test, hand the auditor your new process map. The diagram helps the auditor understand your compliance procedures and communicates your responsibility in the process.

4. Trim Unnecessary Steps

Process mapping lays bare every detail of the process, putting the process under a magnifying lens for inspection. Once your process is mapped, examine it for unnecessary repetitions or time-wasting sidetracks, then remove them as appropriate.

5. New Employee Training

When was the last time a new staff member actually understood your complex processes on the first day of work? In the first week? In the first year?

Too much process discovery time is a waste of resources. Bring your new team members up to speed with a detailed, accurate process map. Visually, it is much easier to understand, and it provides a great avenue for asking and answering questions about the process.

7. Circulate Best Practices

Any specialized, complex process usually accumulates variations in its practices. The planning department does Task A different than Manufacturing, who varies from Marketing who follows the tradition of an employee that retired five years ago, and so on. As a result, your processes become widely varied at best and tangled at worst.

A process map highlights all of these variant practices, allowing you to prune out the inefficient ones and propagate the most effective.

Organizational and business process improvement doesn’t have to be difficult. Process mapping with your team helps you untangle complex processes and visualize them with ease. As a regular discipline, process mapping prepares your organization for the evolving future with empowered decision making.

...Dave Nave,

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