Using Process Mapping for Information Flows

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Since 1953, the Graham Process Mapping method has been the choice of experts worldwide who need to understand the details of their data flows.  Third generation Ben Graham was on a past Business901 podcast and I asked him specifically about process mapping and later the difference between process mapping and value stream mapping.

Entire Transcript and Podcast Link: Process Mapping with Ben Graham

Joe:  I think there’s often confusion about process mapping. Tell me what process mapping is and isn’t.

Ben:  There are a lot of different types of process maps that you’ll see out there. Process mapping is laying out a process flow. A process is a series of steps that accomplish a specific task. A process map lays those steps out. When I say that there are a lot of variations, the variation comes at the level of detail that those maps have. You may have a process map that’s got two or three steps in it to lay out a process where another one will have 150 steps. That’s a level of detail situation.

Quite a few, if you did a search on process maps, a Google search on process maps,  you would see thousands and thousands of maps. Many of them are displayed on a single 8.5 x 11 page. They’re very high level. They give you an idea of what’s going on in the process, and that can give you some focus points.

But a detailed map, which is the kind that I’ve used, identifies all the documents in the process. By document, I mean the forms, emails, spreadsheets, systems, anything that conveys information. It lays out all the documents and lays out the depths of what each one of those does and how they relate to each other, how information from one is used on another.

With that kind of information, you can make decisions about each of those documents. That’s the difference between the high level and the detail map.

Joe:  When I look at process mapping, I think a lot of people think of Visio or, like you just mentioned, a lot of this stuff out on the web. This is not really what process mapping, more specifically your software, is about, is it?

Ben:  That’s right. Most maps are probably drawn with Visio. Visio comes with a lot of different shapes and such that you can use to create whatever you want. Unfortunately, when people are doing that they’re reinventing the wheel and they’re usually doing something or often doing something that’s not going to be repetitive. They’re not going to be able to use it again. Somebody else will see it, and they’ll probably start with something different. There are a lot of variations on what’s sometimes referred to as the box and arrow method, which is a box, arrow, diamonds for decisions. Then sometimes people insert their own symbols in there.

Joe:  When you mention all the different shapes and everything and the consistencies of having that common shape, it makes it much easier for people to understand and share, doesn’t it?

Ben:  Well, the problem is they have to invent the method they use every time. Is the flow chart going to flow left to right to indicate changes through time? Is it going to go up and down? Is it going to go around in circles? Is a phone call represented by a box or is it represented by telephone? Who knows? If there’s not a consistent method behind it, it’s going to change, and people are going to have trouble following it down the road. I think that’s the biggest issue with Visio and other programs like that is that they’re great for drawing a one?time picture of something, a diagram of something. But for process work, we want to have some structured methodology behind it, and there are several.

But with Visio and other diagramming packages, you have to bring your method to the table. You have the symbols there, and you have to figure out how to put them together and which ones you want to use and so forth.

Joe:  I always think process mapping seems to get identified with Six Sigma and value stream mapping with Lean. Why is that and what’s the difference? Can we do a process map before we do a value stream?

Ben:  Process mapping has been around for a long time to help people understand processes. It originated near the turn of the last century in manufacturing with what was called a flow process chart, which was a tool that manufacturing, machine shops and so forth, used to follow the flow of a part through its manufacture. Very powerful tool and that is what has evolved into the detail charting that we use. There is no reason why we can’t do a value stream map and process map. As a matter of fact, the value stream map gives you a high level view of what’s going on in the manufacturing environment, typically. That’s where I have found them to be most useful.

They identify where information flows are. If you have some questions about that information flows, that’s a great opportunity, then to use a detailed process map to see how that information is flowing through the shop floor, also from the office to the shop, or wherever the flow is and whatever media it is using.

You can get the details of that. Is it electronic and it’s sent to a terminal or it’s printed out and then hand walked over someplace? Or is it a piece of paper that is walked out and handed to somebody? All of these details of the process flow can be seen with a detail map, and that just adds more value to the analysis.

Entire Transcript and Podcast Link: Process Mapping with Ben Graham

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Joseph Dager
Business901 is a firm specializing in bringing the continuous improvement process to the sales and marketing arena. He has authored the books the Lean Marketing House, Marketing with A3 and Marketing with PDCA. The Business901 Blog and Podcast includes many leading edge thinkers and has been featured numerous times for its contributions to the Bloomberg's Business Week Exchange.

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