We realized immediately that the hardest part of writing this article is finding a way to keep you engaged once you realize we're discussing how business process mapping can help your business in this environment of decreasing margins and increasing regulation. This introduction will detail how your business can benefit quickly -- and at a relatively low cost -- from a close review of your business’s processes including your operational, sales and portfolio management processes. We hope a key takeaway from this article will be that process maps provide foundational insight into how your portfolio is originated, booked and serviced. And, when done correctly, these detailed maps help your staff better understand the current processes, and reveal opportunities to lower costs through the implementation of procedural improvements.
Process Maps Defined
First, let's step back a moment and define exactly what we mean by a process map. This tool is a graphical representation of how your business works, both as a whole and within its various component parts, revealing the flow and relationship between business functions. The maps show the actions and decisions that take place at every step along the way. We're talking here about process maps that go deep and into great detail, to account for every way things happen inside your business, even the odd-ball scenarios. Through this exercise, process maps provide a baseline to measure how well your business works and exposes where it does not.
Importance of Process Maps
So, now that we've defined what a process map is, let's go back to why this is important. One of the surprising results of documenting processes is that just documenting and distributing the process maps, even before making any improvements, raises the performance of your people immediately and across the board.
This is because, typically, your poorest performers don't actually know how they're supposed to do their jobs, and instead rely on the knowledge of your best people to help them through the process -- over and over again. Thus, your best people end up being involved in everybody's deals, not just their own. This thrashing by the poorest performers often causes rework and wasted time at the end of the process when time is of the essence. As a result, all performers within the organization cannot get as much done as they should.
The maps provide process training and “How-To” guides to your average and poor performers. For the first time, they can be methodical and independent and will begin to make fewer mistakes and, most importantly, drain less time from the top performers. The outcomes of the work passed from one team member to another will also become more consistent and standard. But, process maps will not turn your average performers into superstars; however, they will make them better. Perhaps the biggest benefit to the business is that less time and energy is taken from your best people.
It is your top people -- the experts -- who can best verbalize the process, all the decisions, all the options, all the pitfalls and how to handle all the oddball scenarios. In fact, this is what they do every day as they mentor their colleagues and keep the factory humming. When they are given back time and energy, and can focus on their deals, the whole business can typically handle more deal volume. Therefore, when you can trust your average people to do the average deals, your top performers can spend more time and effort on the complex deals, or engaged with your sales team to help close deals. These “knowledge workers” will have the time to innovate and potentially move your business into new or underdeveloped opportunities within the industry.
You’ll also start to quickly notice that when you empower true knowledge workers to think instead of remember, they start figuring out how the process can be improved. And the process maps also help them communicate these ideas.
To recap, defining your processes well and in detail provides an immediate return to the business by making your people more self-sufficient and more efficient. Of course, that means more deal volume, quicker turnaround, and fewer mistakes and oversights.
Strong Communication Tools
We mentioned earlier that one of the benefits of documenting your processes is that they become measurable. Where are the bottlenecks? What steps are inefficient and can be done better? Which steps take longer than expected? What errors are made most often? The steps identified by process mapping provide data points necessary to conduct the analysis that reveals opportunities for improving workflow. So, process maps provide not only the structure for analysis, but the medium for communicating, discussing and adopting ideas for enhancement.
Process Maps Done Right
Now that we've illustrated how your business can benefit from process maps, you'll recall early on that we subtly added the caveat “when done right.” And, if you've ever seen process maps before, you've seen how rare good ones are – but you may never have considered what a good one could look like. What makes a process map useful, and capable of fulfilling the promise we've outlined, is actually very simple and comes down to two problems that need to be addressed.
First, does the diagram make sense to the business users … and can business users understand it and then explain it? Unless they can understand and explain the process maps, you will have no way of knowing if they're accurate and there will be no way to hand them to your business users because you will be left with documents that are confusing and too technical.
The second common problem is that most process maps are too high-level or poorly organized. If the process maps do not get into enough detail to be complete, the business can't benefit from the work. Handing incomplete processes over to your poor and average performers will only add to their confusion, and actually increase their dependence upon their expert peers. On the other hand, process maps that are highly detailed but poorly organized become too confusing to read, which significantly reduces the benefits highlighted above.
So, what is the recipe for getting good process maps and realizing the tremendous tactical and strategic benefits they can bring? There are best practices that we recommend.
The most important, and often hardest to achieve, is objectivity. Too many process mapping efforts are undermined by assumptions of knowledge. Unfortunately, this is a particularly easy trap for internal teams. Not having any preconceptions of how the process works is essential. For example, it's very difficult, if not impossible, for your internal IT team to remain objective and to not manipulate the conversation, usually without any intention to do so; it’s almost unavoidable. Therefore in many cases, it's best to bring in someone from outside your business, a person who can bring a fresh perspective and will listen to the business users without the biases born of familiarity with the current business process to construct the process maps.
In judging someone’s ability to deliver value, you should review previous work and have it explained to you. If you don't understand it, then you cannot have confidence that you'll get quality and useable business documents, rather than get technology documents.
Another best practice is to quickly go broad and long, and then go deep. This recommendation means that you should do a full review of all the processes in question first, and then keep going into greater and greater depth at each subsequent review. The reason for this is that focusing on one piece before looking at the end-to-end view can result in missing the relationships between parts of the process, leading to unnecessary revision.
While the work is under way, demand that drafts of the business documents (process maps) be published at least weekly, to ensure steady progress and promote a culture of engagement and ongoing dialogue. This will help to ensure there are no bad surprises that often occur when you only see the process maps once they're completed.
Lastly, test the maps. Have your business users reference the process maps to support them through their jobs and have them point out missed nuances and mistakes in the processes. This will help you to ensure the process maps are both useful to the business and represent the business accurately.
Carefully and properly constructed process maps can support your business by raising the capabilities of your poorest and average workers while simultaneously freeing your experts for innovation and process improvements. The result is increased revenue through your experts, reduced cost through process improvement and standardization, and the ability to communicate your business to other outside stakeholders including regulators. When done right, the process maps become an immediate and ongoing asset to your business.