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!

Process Mapping: The First Meeting

Hello! Levi Roth, here – back to share more on processing mapping! If you’ve had a chance to read our previous post, A Quick Introduction to Process Mapping, this new post will serve as a continuation of our discussion. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read this quick introduction to process mapping, I encourage you to check it out before digging into this week’s blog!

Now that you’ve had a chance to be introduced to the general idea of what process mapping is, I want to share some of my experiences with conducting the initial meeting. Here are five key things I’ve learned:

  • Make sure you have the key stakeholders in the room when going through the process.
    • You want to make sure that everyone in the room can accurately and enthusiastically speak to their role within the process.
  • Make sure you take some time to introduce your team members to process mapping.
    • It’s important everyone is comfortable! There’s nothing worse than trying to hold a process mapping meeting and looking out at a sea of blank stares.
  • Keep the team on task for your meeting.
    • One thing I’ve noticed during the As-Is process mapping meeting is that some team members like to try and jump ahead to the To-Be process. It’s crucial to keep them focused on the current actual process to flush out issues.
  • Allow for an appropriate amount of time to conduct your meetings.
    • It is very unlikely that you’ll be able to accurately document your process in 30 minutes or even an hour (unless you’re dealing with process mapping rock stars!). I typically schedule my meetings for two hours and let the team know ahead of time that we may not wind up using the full two hours. But from my experience, we almost always need the two hours (if not more).
  • Do not allow too much time to pass between your As-Is process mapping meeting and To-Be process mapping meeting.
    • Ideally, I like to schedule the To-Be process mapping meeting within one week of completing the As-Is process map. The idea behind this is that you don’t want the stakeholders to lose interest or their valuable ideas on how to improve the process.

Key Stakeholders

I tend to work closely with the process owner to make sure we have all of the necessary individuals within our meetings. Remember, the process owner should be someone who is a Subject Matter Expert (SME), can be considered a champion of the process, and has the ability to effectively communicate with other roles within the process. The main reason you want to make sure you have everyone in the room that can speak to their roles and responsibilities is that you can accurately and effectively identify the current process. Believe me…they will be more than willing to share some of their pain points within the process or describe some of the gaps or inefficiencies. What you do not want to happen is have someone who is speaking to a role or responsibility that they are not currently in.

Make Time for Process Mapping Overview

This is something I learned early on when I began my adventure with process mapping. During some of my early process mapping meetings I went in with the assumption that my key stakeholders had knowledge and experience around this. This mistake was definitely a lesson learned for me. Shortly after these missed opportunities, I developed a quick introduction to process mapping presentation that I go through during every initial meeting. Being able to establish what process mapping is, the goals for the meeting, and walking the team through a simple process map example (buying groceries is my go-to example) helps put everyone in the right frame of mind before working on their process. Ever since I created that intro presentation, my initial process mapping meetings have gone much smoother. I’ve also received feedback from team members that they really enjoyed and appreciated the introduction because they had no idea what process mapping was.

Keeping the Team on Task

This is especially important when you are trying to document the actual As-Is process map. Once the team really starts to get in the groove, they might begin to introduce new ideas to improve the process. Don’t get me wrong, this is great that they are starting to see ways to create improvement in their process! However, it’s best to save that idea in a parking lot and circle back around to it when the team begins to create a To-Be process map. I’ve also experienced some meetings where team members will provide tasks in the process and then follow it up with, well that’s what is supposed to happen anyway. This is a great time to ask a follow up question to understand what is actually happening in the process instead of what is supposed to be happening.

Proper Amount of Time for Meetings

Process Mapping takes a good amount of time to complete. Especially if you want to start the first meeting with an introduction to process mapping and establishing goals for the meeting. I typically will try and schedule a two-hour meeting for the As-Is and To-Be process mapping meetings. I’ll also inform the team that we may not need the full two hours and sometimes I’ll need to schedule an additional meeting to finalize the maps. This can be dependent on how complex the process is and how quickly and accurately the team can describe and go through their process. I’ve found that it’s better to schedule more time than you need in order to avoid running out of time when the team is in the right mindset.

Proper Amount of Time In-between Meetings

The final key point I want to mention is making sure you do not allow too much time to pass between your As-Is and To-Be process mapping meetings. You want to make sure your team members are able to stay in the mapping mindset. My current best practice is to schedule these meetings a week apart, at the most. I’ve found that if we aren’t able to reconvene until a week or more after the initial meeting, we spend more time trying to get into the correct state of mind. Additionally, some of the great ideas that team members had on improving the process were lost during the time in-between meetings. I understand that it can be difficult planning these meetings less than a week apart but the payoff is worth it!

These are five key things I have learned when scheduling and conducting my process mapping meetings. As you reflect on process mapping, what have you found to be essential to an efficient and effective process mapping meeting?

Levi graduated with a Master’s Degree in Applied Psychology with concentrations in Industrial – Organizational Psychology and Evaluation Research. Before completing his Master’s Degree, he was hired as a Project Manager on a $23 Million grant evaluation project within Wisconsin. During this time, he gained a wealth of experience in: Project Management, Resource Management, Evaluation, Analytics, Data Visualization, Process & Program Improvement, and many other skills. After the completion of the grant evaluation, Levi began a new adventure as an Agency Wide Business Project Manager for a large Government Agency within Minnesota (and he never heard the end of it from his Wisconsin friends ). He has been in his current role for roughly two years and loves the new experiences and challenges he is faced with on a daily basis. Looking to nerd out about process improvement or government work? Levi is your guy!

Interested in having us facilitate a process mapping session for your organization? Let’s chat.

Stay tuned for future posts on process mapping, including tools you can use for facilitating meetings and designing maps!