Process Mapping

Lean, Six Sigma, ISO 9001, TS 16949, TL 9000, AS9100, ISO 13485

The "Quality Revolution" has companies in pursuit of the promise of dramatically improved quality, service, productivity, and profitability. Most recently ISO 9001, Six Sigma, and Lean have become the preferred process improvement and process reengineering fashions. The most significant effect and common thread of these fashions is the focus on - and the resulting increased awareness of - business processes.

ISO 9001 requires a company to apply a "process approach" to its quality management system (QMS) and to define its processes and their interaction. Six Sigma demands the identification of process inputs and outputs, but the first step is to map the process. Lean focuses on understanding the flow of information and material through the process(es) using value stream mapping as the primary tool. Yet, in spite of the common theme few consultants and practitioners emphasize what should be considered the basics: visualizing how a process is actually working and how it is actually managed.

If a business system or process is inconsistent, any improvement activity will help, at first. But, to maximize and sustain the success and value of an improvement initiative demands consistency. Without consistency it is impossible to understand processes across functional and geographic boundaries. Without understanding business processes it is impossible to make accurate projections, benefit from past experience, establish reasonable goals and plans, and make improvements. Consistency allows you to analyze your systems, determine their effectiveness, and make targeted changes.

To achieve this consistency the first step is to capture your current practices (current state). Once you have current practices properly defined and documented you can train people, keep records, and evaluate your systems for best (and not so good) practices. Then ISO 9001, Six Sigma, and Lean can be rationally and practically applied. The resulting improvements will then be consistently captured, defined, and documented. The cycle can then begin again. The net result is a continual improvement system that is embedded in the fabric of the organization.

Process Maps are ideal for this purpose. A Process Map is a graphical representation of a process. It represents the entire process from start to finish, including:

  • process inputs and outputs,
  • activities and responsibility,
  • pathways, parallel processes, and process loops,
  • decision points,
  • key measures, metrics, objectives, and targets, and
  • interaction with other processes.

Depending on your objectives, a Process Map can represent the entire process at a high or detailed level, allowing detailed analysis and process optimization. Furthermore, a Process Map is an ideal instructional tool for assuring effective training and process consistency. Once Process Maps are established, an organization can work towards ensuring its processes are effective (the right process is followed the every time), and efficient (continually improved to ensure processes use the least amount of resources). Process Maps a typical tool used for ISO 9001, Six Sigma, and Lean projects. Process Mapping is also a core Lean QMS® and Lean BOS® technique.

In general, text-based process documents are long, confusing, unable to show parallel processes, unavailable (in binders), and require strong reading comprehension and retention skills. These issues are magnified in companies that must also contend with language and cultural differences.

Process Maps on the other hand can be 1/5 the length, show a greater amount of detail and complexity, are easy to follow, and are readily available (posted on walls, accessed via intranet, etc.). Process Maps play on the strength of the brain to recognize and recall patterns. They take a very complex system and make it a simple step-by-step operation that is visually intuitive. Inconsistencies and open loop processes are easily identified when placed in a graphical model. The Process Maps are then easily modified and used to train people quickly. Consequently, improvements are introduced in a matter of minutes. Having the ability to develop and maintain process mapped documentation as your organization evolves is a key component of the Lean QMS® methodology.

Contact Pinnacle to learn how Process Mapping can improve your business.

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