Process Mapping: Where am I NOW?

Jon Wetzel

If you don’t know where you are or where you’re going then why are you surprised when you get lost? 

In today’s world we KNOW the benefits of Google Maps or having a GPS in our cars so why aren’t we using process maps to guide our business improvements?

A dose of reality can cure or paralyse

When I did lean consulting one of the first things I asked was “Do you have any process maps?”

The answer was always “No” and my follow up was “How do you guide your business improvements if you don’t know where you currently stand on your own processes?”

This would normally end in one of two ways

1.      I made them very upset and lost the client.

2.      They said “I don’t know…what can we do?”

“Squeaky Wheel” prioritising is not a plan for success

If you choose your projects solely based on who complains the most, then the impact of your improvements will be very low.

You need to know how every part of the process interacts with the steps before and the steps after to make informed improvement decisions.

Without this information you’re making changes in a vacuum.  Improvements in one area will produce a ripple effect downstream causing additional problems.  Ask any IT programmer and they will agree 100%.

Better yet go ask your staff.   The people doing the work have a mental list of all the painful “productivity changes” that were a greater source of problems than improvements.

You are here!

Even the shopping mall lets me know where I’m at on a map so you should do the same before you try to improve things.

This is called your current state value stream map.  There are 1000 of websites that will teach you how to make one but here are the 2 most important items. 

1.      The people making these current state maps MUST be the people who actually do the work. 

2.      Everyone who is part of the process MUST be in attendance to create the map.

Mapping is a candid conversation had by all the attendees about what, when and how they do their jobs and most importantly about how they interact with each other.

#1 reason processing mapping fails

The supervisor, manager, director ..etc thinks that they know the process well enough so the workers aren’t needed to do the mapping.

Right now you’re disagreeing with me and thinking:

  • My lab is different. 
  • I helped build it and I know how everything works.
  • My staff keeps me updated daily so I know everything.
  • I can’t afford to have the workers off the bench, I can do it myself.
  • I’ll just collect all the info from the other managers and SOP’s and piece it together.

Part arrogance, part pride and mostly not wanting to bother my team, I made these same mistakes in the past.

I created multiple process maps, contingency plans and improvements only to find out that they couldn’t be implemented because I had missed steps in the process.

Don’t waste your time, get your staff off the bench and mapping!

What should we fix first?

Here’s the best part of a current state map.  You will immediately be able to identify 10 – 20 things you can change to improve your process.

The ones that become apparent are

  • Large Batch and Queue mentality is running rampant
  • You have Push system that is allowing a backlog to accumulate work in front of every step of the process.
  • You spend more time doing re-work then actually doing the work “right first time.”
    • Bottlenecks are causing flow issues.

 Jon’s Tips for the first month after finishing your map

  • Don’t look for IT solutions.
  • Target improvements that change the flow or volume of work being done.
  • See where you can create a pull system for work to be completed.
  • Don’t spend any money yet, your improvements should have zero cost.
  • Don’t look at automation.  If you don’t have a solid process so you can’t automate it.
  • Let the workers take the reigns on the improvements so they can test and implement faster.


If you find yourself lost in the woods, build a house. "Well, I was lost but now I live here! I have severely improved my predicament!" – Mitch Hedberg

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