Process Mapping: 6 Steps for a Deep Understanding

Are you struggling on your Lean Journey to cross train or to educate newer employees on complex technical processes? In this post I explain how Process Mapping is a best practice technique to understand the most challenging processes – whether they are business or manufacturing processes.

Some processes are very complex from a technology standpoint, each having many, many inputs and outputs. For example a typical injection molding machine today might have a hundred machine parameters for a specific process. Add to that the complexity of preparing raw material, the flow dynamics of the material in the mold, and the processing of the part downstream and you have a multitude of inputs to manage. The outputs of these complex processes can be equally complex to determine the root cause for so many potential types of defects.

As you can see, there can be a tremendous amount of knowledge required and therefore it is a challenging task to educate and cross train. This holds true whether we are talking about manufacturing or business processes. Of course in all cases we need to strive to rethink, minimize, and possibly even eliminate processes that do not add value to the customer – but let’s focus on understanding the current state today.

In an earlier post, I described how to apply A3 Thinking in a group setting using a whiteboard for collaborative problem solving. In this post, I am digging in deeper to describe how to create a Process Map to fully understand a particular process. I have found going through this exercise with experts and newcomers together is an excellent way to “hash out” differences of understanding and paint a complete picture of how a process works. The facilitator need only be skilled at asking questions of the team; no prior knowledge is necessary.  After going through this exercise many times for very complex processes, I am absolutely sold on its effectiveness.

What is a Process Map?

  • A visual representation of the current process
  • Captures all inputs and outputs to a process

Process Map

How do you create one?

  1. Assemble both experts and newbies at a whiteboard (using a computer tends to be less engaging)
  2. Define the scope of your discussion (starting and ending process steps)
  3. Define each main step in the process
  4. Define all conceivable inputs. Each should be measurable and must include a unit of measure. For technical processes, the unit of measure assists at planning future experiments to deepen the scientific understanding of the input.  Each input should be defined as a noun. It may be helpful to consider the 6M’s to determine all the inputs:
    1. Manpower
    2. Machine
    3. Material
    4. Measurement
    5. Method
    6. Mother Nature
  5. Define all conceivable outputs. Each should also be measurable and must include a unit of measure. Consider each of the defect types from the process step and list those as well.
  6. Work through each step in the process.

During the facilitation of this exercise, questioning everything is the key ingredient. This should not be a “me teach, you listen” exercise. Rather, the engagement should be in asking questions and poking sharply by asking “why” and “what if” questions. I have found these discussions also bring about innovation ideas and many “wow moments.” I should also note that often cause and effect discussions arise (that is “if this, then that happens” type comments). These are important to understand, but I recommend leaving these details out for a future session dedicated to that very topic – and one that I hope to have a future post on.

Process Map Example