Process Mapping: A Few Tools of the Trade

Levi Roth back with the third component of our process mapping blog series! In the previous posts, we’ve discussed a brief overview of process mapping, its benefits, and a few tips & tricks on holding the first couple of process mapping meetings with your team. This discussion will focus on a few tools/software that I’ve used so far in documenting process maps and my experiences with them.

When I first started process mapping, there weren’t a lot of sophisticated tools available to use. During this time, I used good old-fashioned sticky notes to help us through our process mapping meetings. Sticky notes actually work really well for getting your team physically and mentally involved in documenting the process! You can use different colored sticky notes to help provide more clarity with your swim lanes and who is responsible for tasks. Be sure to have plenty of pens or markers on hand to allow your team members to write their tasks on sticky notes. Then as individuals begin documenting their tasks you can work with them on placing the sticky notes on the wall. If you have a large white board available, it can help you organize your swim lanes even more! There are a few additional benefits of using sticky notes. It forces team members to be concise when writing their tasks, as there isn’t a lot of writing space available. 😊 Another benefit is that the tasks are easy to move around in your process. Just peel the sticky note off the wall and move as needed. One final piece of advice: don’t forget to take pictures of your process map once you have everything in the right place! Having those photos later on can be extremely valuable.

The sticky note strategy is great during the meeting, but you might be thinking to yourself, “but how do I create a digital document that I can preserve and share the process with others?” Well, I was asking myself that same question until I discovered that I could use PowerPoint for this! When you open a new PowerPoint project start with a blank template, go to the insert tab, and click on SmartArt (or, if you love playing with formatting, you can add your own shapes and earn a lot more flexibility). At this point you are going to see a lot of options for what images you can use.

Now you just continue adding shapes and tasks until you have your documented process map! If you are documenting a longer process you may need to continue onto different slides. Just be sure to properly document the ending and starting tasks across slides. It may take some time in getting comfortable with formatting the process map and making it look clean and organized, especially if you’re a bit of a perfectionist like me. 😊

The tool that I have been using the most currently is, Microsoft Visio. From my experience, I really enjoy using Visio for documenting my process maps. There is a slight learning curve, mainly because there are so many things available to you within this program. After you begin to learn more and gain experience using Visio, you’ll find the documenting process fun and easy. But, maybe that’s just because I’m a little bit of a nerd. I’ve become fairly proficient in Visio so that I am able to replace the sticky note method during the initial session with the team. Now I am able to use a projector to develop the process map with the team and make changes in real time based on their input. This also helps cut down on the time I would have allotted for the moving of the process maps from physical sticky notes to a digital record. In my opinion, Visio is also the most aesthetically pleasing too. There are several cool format features in Visio that you can utilize. For instance, you can have connection lines automatically drawn between your task boxes. Much like most Microsoft products you can have your task boxes snap into place and there are guiding lines for optimal spacing and organizing. This definitely comes in handy with my perfectionism in terms of clean lines and formatting. Below is an example of a flow chart pulled from Microsoft’s website just to give you a small taste of what is possible with Visio.

I’m a big fan of Visio but I also know that it is not the end all be all tool for process mapping. There are a TON of available tools for process mapping. Some of the tools are totally free too. I’m interested in hearing what tools you’ve tried and what your experiences were!

Deven here! As a nerd that really enjoys mapping processes, I want to share a few other tools with you (some of which have free versions). The first is Kumu. This tool is GREAT for mapping relationships (e.g., visualizing networks). It’s interactivity can be next level with some extra time spent on formatting your dataset (and using the functions within Kumu to customize your end-product). One of my other favorites is Lucidchart, which I’ve found REALLY beneficial for sharing process flows with teams — especially developers. A lot of the work we do consists of collaborating with highly technical folks to build tools to collect and report data, but those tools are being used by analysts and program managers. Therefore, we need a tool to communicate things in a streamlined fashion that allows for the flexibility to collaborate and adjust as needed. Enjoy!

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