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Why Every Business Should Chart its Processes

April 22, 2013

I didn’t understand it much because what the Colonel said was full of tactics talk. Later, the Captain explained it, and that was better but not much. So then Sergeant Tyree showed it to us by drawing lines on the ground with a stick. That way it was clear as it could be. – Shelby Foote, historian and author of ‘The Civil war: A Narrative.

process2People understand pictures.

Wouldn’t it be useful for you to be able to represent your business, in pictures?

Let’s start with the basics. What is a process? A process is a series of related activities that must be completed to produce a result or output. In business, processes are the things we do, the activities we perform, day in day out, to keep our organisation going. They are what we do to define, market, make and deliver our services and our products.

Since a process implies movement, it seems logical that we use lines to help us understand them, representing the flow of information or product through our business.

Symbols on these lines indicate activities (or periods of non-activitiy) that must be completed to progress towards completion and are recorded in a real-life scenario (in sequence or in parallel).

Charting your processes will tell you:

  • what is being done
  • by whom? where? when?

Following this, we can then as why?

Process charts can add value by helping you to:

  • identify current methods and practices
  • identifying bottlenecks in the business
  • define transparent processes so that everyone understands the system
  • understand and fix problems
  • standardise the way you work
  • train current and new employees
  • continually improve how you do business
  • focus on value rather than activities
  • understand internal customer/supplier relationships
  • reduce fire-fighting
  • reduce errors/mistakes

There are a number of methodologies available to chart your processes, including:

  • flowcharting
  • BPMN (business process model notation)
  • 6 Sigma (DMAIC)
  • value stream maps

However, the methodology I like to use is simple:

  • document what is happening now
  • define the opportunities for improvement
  • create a desired future state
  • manage the transition

Have you documented your business processes? What did you learn? If not, why not?

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