Mapping your operational processes can be one of the most painful and difficult things to do. It is also one of the most essential and beneficial tasks a product manager can work on. You can’t really set a strategy or create effective systems without having a comprehensive understanding of the way your team gets things done.
Steps I take when mapping processes:
- Identify role holders. Write down all parties that are affected by the particular process you are mapping. This can be different team members, outside customers, vendors, or other departments within your organization. For each role holder you identify, assign that party a unique color.
Define some basic process identifiers. I would encourage you to keep it simple. Unless you are an industrial engineer and spend the majority of your time creating these kinds of workflows, keep the identifiers to things you understand and can easily assign. Example 2 shows some of the identifiers my team used when we went through this process recently.
- Map the absolute simplest version of the process you are trying to identify. When my team and I did this, we were trying to capture the project lifecycle of one of our products. Because many of our products are custom designs, each one we sell goes through the entire lifecycle. We were able to boil the work flow down to six unique processes.
- Gather your team around a white board and pick one of the processes from your simple work flow map. Start expanding that process. Try not to get bogged down by any one step. If you forget a step, or map a process wrong, just remember that it is easy to correct imperfections once you get everything on the board.
Once you have everything mapped, grab your cell phone and take a picture to capture the finished work.
It is now time to transition from the chicken scratch on the board to something that will be easy to read for anyone who needs to learn your process. There are a few software programs that you can use to produce high quality work flow diagrams. A few of those are listed below.
- Draw.IO – This is an app that plugs into Google Chrome. The developers don’t provide any storage, so you have to have a Gmail account in order to connect the program to your Google Drive. The best part of this program is that it is absolutely free. You can produce nice work flows but the user interface is kind of clunky. All in all, not a bad program (especially considering the price).
Lucid Charts – This is the program I use to create work flows. It has great team collaboration functionality, the user interface is really intuitive, and the diagrams are stunning. The downside is that you have to pay. However, the monthly subscription fees are more than reasonable.
- Microsoft excel. This is the old school way. Super difficult to change processes once you have them mapped and the program is not really designed to do this kind of work. That being said, many teams have successfully used Excel to map their work flows. It is definitely better than nothing.
Once you have your process flow diagram created, I would suggest printing it on some large paper. Hang it somewhere visible for the whole team. It is important to think of the map as a living, breathing, ever evolving document. The process flow diagram is the key to continuously improving work flows.
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