Business process mapping is a great method for understanding the complex processes that impact a business’s bottom line. Comparing a map of how a process is supposed to work and how a process actually works can be revealing. These methods, originally developed to understand manufacturing processes, do not always translate well to service or transactional types of businesses. Here are a few tips to help you better use business process mapping in your service-based business.

1. Accept That Your Business Is Not a Conveyor Belt

Most formal training for business process mapping uses some type of conveyor–belt-style manufacturing process. These processes are typically straightforward with raw materials entering and finished products exiting. Services are rarely this simple. Service processes will have a lot of back and forth between customers and employees. This human interaction will result in special cause variation that can be beneficial to understand. Embrace this and do not try to make your process map look like a conveyor belt.

2. Concentrate on Decision Points

Service processes will typically have many more decision points than you’d see in a manufacturing process. These decision points are a great source of information for your process. These decisions hold the key to understanding inefficiency and ineffectiveness in your processes.

3. Understand the Big Picture AND Get in the Weeds

Given the special cause nature of service processes and the volume of decision points, your process map may look more like a plate of spaghetti than a process map. There is an art to deciding how detailed to get with a process map. Understating the decisions is imperative, but too much complexity can hide problems from view.

4. Get Process Context

Do not map processes in a vacuum. While this is true for both manufacturing and service processes, it is especially true for service processes. The people working the actual process are the only ones that truly understand the complexity of the process. They are the ones who work through the myriad decisions on a daily basis. Having them in the room while you are mapping the process and observing the work will give valuable context to the business process map.

5. Stay Flexible

Use the business process map to help write standard operating procedures. These procedure maps should include the standard, but should also include exceptions to the standard. They will need to describe what should be done during a typical execution, during frequently occurring exceptions and what to do when an unexpected variation occurs.

Where to Start

There are two ways you can start process mapping: from the top down or from the bottom up. Bottom-up process mapping starts with the greatest detail; each iteration becomes more generalized until you can see the big picture. I prefer to start from the top, or generalized, process map and get deeper into the weeds with each iteration. I use a SIPOC (supplier, input, process, output, customer) to understand the process first from a high level. I then map processes between the SIPOC process steps. Gradually add detail to these process maps until I encounter data entropy.

Business process mapping is a valuable tool for improving efficiency and effectiveness. Implementing these five tips given will help you map those processes in a service or transactional business process.

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