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Mapping the Work Flow of a Problem

June 16, 2010

Work-Flow (process) Mapping is one of the fastest, and easiest ways to reduce questions, gain awareness, identify important steps, lower errors, increase productivity, and ultimately, improve on customer service.  Unfortunately, and especially at larger companies, it rarely gets incorporated because ‘tribal knowledge’ is still running rampant.  I worked at such a place, and thought how nice would it be if we could put our fingers on exactly where we are in the process, with what needs to be done next, and with whom, in order to move the product/service to the next step with everyone’s complete satisfaction?

It generally would follow these 9 steps:

  1. Choose a process that could use improvement.  Take me, for example, I would love to fill in the gaps that the program schedule leaves out.  The best bet is to take a process which is time-consuming, multi staff touch labor, error prone, and/or critical to success; starting where there is a strong potential for improvement will build morale, and help launch a better understanding of all involved.
  2. Assemble a fact-finding team.  Preferably, the team will include people from the lowest, and highest levels directly involved in the operational process, such as Engineering, the shop floor, their supervisors, their managers, and the head of Operations.  The team must be empowered (given the responsibility, accountability, and sufficient authority to correct) to make significant changes in the work flow to enhance every possible efficiency.
  3. Map out the way work it is currently being done.  Diagram each step.  Use yellow post-its on the wall, a white board, or a simple notepad and pencil.  Show decision branches, time spent, key people involved, with functional alternates, and any other important aspects of the work.  It is often be easier to sketch out the individual tasks first, then go back, and fill in the details.
  4. Identify known problem areas, as well as areas that are “deemed” acceptable, but could be improved upon.  These are areas where people feel there are currently major issues to be resolved, such as poor customer satisfaction, “dropping the ball,” large expenses, and/or significant delays.  Where there are many areas to choose from for improvement, try to follow the 80/20 rule: work on the 20% of the areas that cause 80% of the problems.   But, as we all have experienced, a problem now, can go away temporarily, but resurface later if not fully corrected.
  5. Brainstorm solutions.  Identify all possible action steps for each problem area, without evaluating them, no matter how ridiculous.
  6. Evaluate action steps.  Set up a set of “final” action steps by group consensus by narrowing down the most logical.
  7. Assign responsibilities.  Ask people to volunteer to take responsibility (ownership) for each action step judged to be worthwhile by the group, create an action item list, set deadlines, and establish successful criteria.  Put a name by each task to be accomplished because without a name, it won’t get done.  Trust me on this one!  🙂
  8. Create a master plan schedule.  Summarize who has responsibility for what actions, the durations, and the deadlines.  Distribute the plan, and make sure everyone agrees with it, understands it, and that it accurately reflects the decisions made during the brainstorming sessions.
  9. Create viable follow through.  The meetings are useless without appropriate follow-through.  Try meeting again every week to see what went well, and what did not.  Have an agenda, and walk away with action items to be accomplished.  Cover the basics, then finish strong with brainstorming activities.  This is where having a detailed, clear, and well communicated master plan is so valuable.

To be effective, work flow mapping should be facilitated by an experienced Process Engineer.

I’ve already put such a request in motion, and definitely look forward our future quantifiable positive results.  How about you?

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