Navigating a Process with Ease
Observing and questioning those people who carry out the tasks that make up a process, is a highly valuable exercise. We can then accurately represent the information we capture in the form of a process map. Yet doing this well is not always as easy as it sounds.
A PROCESSAccording to the ISO9000:2000 definition, a process is a set of interrelated or interacting activities, which transforms inputs into outputs.
A PROCESS MAPA diagram that intends to clearly identify the main steps involved in completing a process, with the items used and produced when that process is complete.
When mapping processes, we consider carefully the wording we are going to use. In order to tease out the salient information from the person doing the process mapping, we recommend using open questions, starting with 'What?', 'Why?' and 'Who?' or even 'When'?
- What does this exercise produce?
- Why do you carry out that activity?
- Who is responsible for this task?
- When should this action be executed?
Imagine that an auditor is reviewing your organisation. Put yourself in their shoes. They are looking for you to say what you do - then crucially that you are doing what you say. A process needs to reflect what is done in practice.
Optimising for Clear and Useful Outcomes
It may be useful when beginning a new process map, to be reminded that activities themselves have no value. They attract a cost. It is the output - the deliverable - that adds the value.
If someone is exceptionally busy all day, 'running themselves ragged', and yet is unable to specify an outcome from their exertions, it raises a big question mark over whether what they are doing is of value to their organisation. Similarly, if there is no value attached to an activity, how can it be improved or streamlined? How can the activity be altered to maximise a tangible benefit, whether it is related to financial value, time or otherwise?
When thinking about wording deliverables, we recommend asking: "What does this activity produce?" An 'updated system' may well be the case, yet it will not be clear which system is being updated, nor what the system has been updated with. You can then ask follow up questions by finding out "what happens with this deliverable as a result?" Does someone (or a program) in the organisation do something with it? Is this information forwarded on to anywhere? What purpose does it serve?
By using such questions, you can begin filling in the blanks. Thus for example, instead of an 'updated system' your deliverable can now read 'Sales order form A13 completed on Salesforce'. A well coined phrase at Triaster is 'garbage in, garbage out'. It helps to keep this in mind when facilitating or creating process maps. Results matter: who wants to hold their hand up to producing the unusable, or nonsensical?
Open box, box open
In many instances, we review process maps that have activities containing phrases such as "Open box", with the subsequent output deliverable reading "Box open". In theory, this is not incorrect, as of course opening a box, results in an open box. However, by choosing your wording carefully when questioning the person delivering the process, you can produce process maps that are so much more useful, and useable and they will be used.
How to... / Show me the...
A further useful tip when facilitating is to use the 'how to... / show me the...' test. It is a great way to check if your activities and deliverables are suitably described. When creating an activity or naming a map, we recommend silently or invisibly preceding its text with 'how to'.
When text makes sense when applying this test, you know you have a logical map or activity. As a further illustration on this, take an activity containing "Sales system updated with reference number". When we begin this activity with "how to": "how to Sales system updated with reference number", it does not make sense.
Change the words around slightly so that it reads "Update sales system with reference number" instead and precede the text with 'how to'. Its purpose as an activity is now crystal clear: "How to... Update sales system with reference number".
Using "show me the..." is also an excellent way of testing whether your chosen deliverable title is suitable. Just as we preceded the activity with 'how to...' you can use the same method for your deliverables. Precede them with 'show me the...' Let's take a deliverable with the text "Sales system updated". Now precede this with 'show me the...'
Can you see how this does not make complete sense? By rearranging the text, you can use 'show me the...' to ensure this deliverable has a clear purpose. If its title reads "show me the... Updated sales system", you will immediately recognise the result, output (and purpose) of its preceding activity.
Clear as mud; how obvious is your language?
We recommend avoiding ambiguous language which can be either interpreted as an activity or as a deliverable. What does complete agenda mean to you? How could your colleagues or customers interpret it? Do you "show the complete agenda" or is it something you are tasked with doing?
Wherever possible, encourage others in your organisation to avoid using acronyms. You may be surprised how many people outside the immediate scope of your process are unfamiliar with this form of short hand. Thus, SME: subject matter expert, specialist machine engineer, or small and medium enterprises?
A fast fundraiser for good causes (whether for the good of a team or external charities) is to have a tin, similar to a swear box in the office. Every time someone uses an acronym and they cannot explain its meaning, they should make a donation. It will soon mount up and acronym use will reduce.
We advise using purely alpha-numeric characters when creating maps, for two reasons. Firstly, certain characters have problems when published to HTML (such as the '&' symbol and the extended hyphen, both of which upset the navigation between maps (and other maps) and maps and menus. Also if a full stop is used, it suggests that there are two pieces of information or activities which need to be separated for clarity.
It also opens up the next question of how many spaces after a full stop. Depending on when you were taught to type, it may be one space or two. Language and punctuation are very powerful.
Consider these two definitions:
A panda that eats shoots and leaves
An animal with a varied diet.
This time with punctuation:
A panda that eats, shoots and leaves
An animal on the run, armed and dangerous, with their food bill left unpaid!
We hope that you have found this article useful. In summary, by following the key basic approaches we have set out, you will ensure that the maps in your Process Library are not only consistent but also useful, usable and ultimately used.