Why process mapping sometimes goes wrong

When a company grows by acquisition, it will end up with a number of duplicated business processes. The people from the acquired companies will typically follow the processes that they are familiar with and therefore multiple ways of doing of achieving objectives may be in place even if not visible to management. This typically results in a business process tangle.

To get tangled business processes under control, so that the stages from taking an order to providing the product or service are consistent, make best use of resources, and are adopted across the company, requires surveying the process landscape and mapping, verifying and then publishing maps of the business processes in use or to be used.

However, a common mistake made is to believe that merely sitting a new graduate or middle manager in front of a process mapping tool will result in the creation of intelligible and usable process maps.  This can result in, from not knowing any better, people putting all they know about the process onto one page which then becomes cluttered with dozens of process shapes at different levels of detail (or decomposition to use the correct term)

Maps have to have a consistent and appropriate level of detail. When maps are created which have different levels of detail on the same page, these are confusing and unusable

Navigating the process landscape, i.e. the process connections from marketing and sales through to service/product delivery and support together with the enabling processes of supplier and people management etc, requires information at the correct level of detail. You don’t operate a computer by reference to the circuit diagram and you don’t fly between countries using a street map. A good map provides the required information for the user and is simple to understand.

People new to process mapping may not realise how low their ability is. In terms of learning, they may be at the level of unconscious incompetence when they just don’t know how poor their maps are. Therefore, appropriate guidance on coaching should be given so that these mappers can lift themselves from unconscious to conscious incompetence (when they realise how poor their ability is and are motivated to improve) and then conscious competence where they know what to do and how to do it. Eventually they will reach unconscious competence where they produce good maps without even having to think about it. This requires coaching and the provision of appropriate training and reference material. Peer review of maps should be encouraged so that a consistent approach is achieved by collaboration. Online discussion forums where mappers can share and develop their knowledge and be supported by contributions from process mapping experts should be set up

One final comment. Only use BPMN for mapping business processes if you use a restricted symbol set. With over 100 symbols to choose from, maps can become over complicated and require reference documents to create and understand.

Use a tool that uses universal process notation such as Tibco Nimbus, Skore or the free, and very good Elements Cloud.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any question or comments on business process mapping and untangling