Small Business Success Strategies #2 Process Mapping
The fabric of carrying out your daily mission is in real danger of fraying without accurate and usable process mapping.
In the days before GPS and navigation apps on our smartphones, taking a journey of any significant distance required unfolding a gigantic paper map, scrutinizing the myriad of possible routes, and carefully devising the shortest, most logical trajectory from Point A to Point Z. The incredible access we now enjoy to all the various options for electronic mapping makes it insidiously easy to never really investigate a route in advance. The convenience of real-time navigational assistance has caused many to simply enter starting and ending coordinates into an app without ever really seeing a visual representation of where they’ve come from and where they’re going to.
Unfortunately, this revised attitude toward the use of maps has crept into the business world as well. With so much reliance on Customer Relationship Management software, cloud-based collaborative solutions, and the other digital tools of 21st century business operations, the concept of actually creating a roadmap for how you do what you do might seem downright archaic. This is certainly not to imply that these various software and app solutions serve no purpose, but the truth is that some business owners convince themselves that there’s no real need to look at something as mundane as daily operational processes when they have so many flashy options in their toolbox.
If you own a small business or nonprofit, you’ve likely encountered at least some scenarios in which it becomes obvious that the ground for your day-to-day processes is shaky indeed. Whether based on knowledge contained completely within the minds of those who carry out the tasks, or perhaps represented through inadequate and poorly-written instructions, the fabric of carrying out your daily mission is in real danger of fraying without accurate and usable process mapping. Being able to clearly define what you do every day, how you do it, and who the responsible and accountable parties are will play a crucial role in being able to ensure that everything your organization does is logical and repeatable.
The concept of breaking down a process into clearly defined sequential steps might seem to be incredibly obvious and easy until you actually start to do it. Take any basic, mundane, daily task you perform without thinking, and you’ll be instantly amazed at just how many sub-steps there are for every step, things you did with such routine that they became invisible to you.
What about brushing your teeth? On the surface, it seems so straightforward, but think of just how much is required to properly document all of the necessary steps. You can’t simply say, “Put the toothpaste on the brush and brush your teeth”. What about the various actions required simply to open the tube and dispense the toothpaste?
In a business setting, even if we’ve taken the time to document how we do something, more often than not the way in which we’ve chosen to outline the procedural steps will take too much for granted. It’s easy to get caught in how rote something is without truly appreciating all the subtle nuances that make it happen. Going into specific detail may seem like overkill, but the overarching goal of process mapping in our businesses is to ensure that anyone, even someone who has no previous knowledge of that particular task, can look at what we’ve written and be able to clearly understand what’s required to get the job done.
The most obvious advantage of good process mapping is from a training perspective, particularly if your organization is one that’s reliant on volunteers who are likely to come and go with considerable frequency. In that environment, being able to train new staff to carry out a job function is critically important, and proper documentation will work wonders for those just coming into the organization. But another tremendous benefit of mapping everything is for outside eyes, those who may never have any need to actually perform the process itself but who nevertheless have a vested interest in how you do things.
Whether a potential donor, investor, strategic partner, or other concerned party, those who aren’t versed in your operational structure may very well have some legitimate questions to ask. Why does it take three people to perform that particular job function? What would someone refer to for guidance if they had to make a judgement call at a particular juncture in the process? Clearly-defined process mapping will answer these and any other questions, and do so in a way which ensures consistency and transparency. Without having to go into complex explanations about all of the inner workings of a process, you can provide the mapping to whoever is interested and they can do their own investigation from there.
It’s also important to draw the distinction between the various kinds of process mapping, because there are different approaches that each serve specific needs but aren’t necessarily interchangeable. If you deal with highly complex processes which involve many different steps, it can be beneficial to create written procedures consisting of sequential action items explaining each aspect of the function in detail. This can also facilitate providing other supporting documentation which may be necessary to complete the task, whether this is graphical, data, or descriptive in nature. Documenting a process to this degree can help ensure that no step is ever overlooked, and this can be further augmented through the use of computer screen-shots showing what the person performing the function is likely to encounter at the various junctures of the process.
Another viable approach to process mapping is through the use of flow charts. Particularly if the overall steps of the entire process are able to be contained within a single slide, flow charts can provide a true “snapshot” overview of what a process looks like. This can be the most advantageous approach for those situations in which you need to show someone outside the organization how something is done. Without the minutiae of detail which is sometimes inherent in step-by-step directions, the flow chart lends itself to a cleaner presentation for someone looking in from the outside. The other great benefit of this approach is that flow charts tend to be more cyclical than linear, providing a clear representation of how the individual steps in a function are drawn to a logical conclusion and then set to repeat.
Regardless of the methodology you utilize, just making the effort to start process mapping is the first key step in ensuring that your business carries out its processes on a sound footing. Taking the time to properly dissect and document the inner workings of your processes may seem tedious and time-consuming, but trying to navigate your daily operations with poorly documented procedures is the true waste of time. Investing a modest effort into defining your operations now can’t help but translate into greater success for your organization as you move forward.
ValorExcel can help you map your processes for a price that fits within your budget. Contact us at 240-329-9387 or visit www.valorexcel.com/businessservices to find a complete list of the the services we offer. Do you want to get a deeper perspective on the overall health of your small business or nonprofit. If so, take your organization's temperate at www.valorexcel.com/takeyourtemp. In the meantime, make sure you check our recent videos on YouTube by clicking HERE. Each episode is designed to inspire, empower, and transform you and/or your organization.