It was past noon on a recent business trip to Phoenix. After a full morning of meetings, I was ready for some lunch. Walking into a local deli, I picked out a soup and sandwich combo and ordered at the main counter. “I can make your sandwich here but you’ll need to order your soup over there,” the staff member explained as she pointed to the other end of the counter. At the soup area, I learned that they were out the particular one I wanted. That’s okay, I’d have a salad with my sandwich instead. “Okay,” the second staff member responded, “Just head over to that area to order a salad.” At the salad area, a third staff member described salad options to me. I was now too far away to read the options back on the main menu board. After choosing one, he directed me to a fourth area to pay for my meal. There I recounted my sandwich-salad order to the cashier.
I watched staff look back at orders and sort out which combinations of sandwiches, soups, and salads went together for each customer meal. Due to some confusion on that front, my lunch took a while to prepare. While waiting, I learned from regulars that the shop had recently introduced a menu featuring these new combo offerings. Previously their menu was split into sections for soup, salad, and sandwiches and posted at each of the stations. Three lines formed and people ordered at each station, receiving their meals, then paying at the central cash register. It all worked well according to this customer. So what happened?
Clearly, this sandwich shop should look at its current structure and streamline preparation of the new menu items. Process mapping provides a helpful toolkit for this job. In process mapping, teams create visual workflow diagrams to map current practices. They then analyze the current map and note issues. Lastly, they use this information to determine improvements to redesign current practices. In these ways, process mapping is useful for addressing all sorts of messy problems in organizations of all sizes.
So why should you examine and redesign your organization’s processes?
It is more difficult to do new things with old structures.
Like the sandwich shop’s new menu forced into the old ordering process, it is more difficult to do new things when underlying structures do not adapt. In a world of infinite resources, an organization might create a new team or location to do the new thing. But that is not reality for most (if not all!) organizations. Instead, process mapping can help existing teams reorganize their work to support new tasks or address new needs.
Poor customer experiences may cost you sales and reputation.
I don’t think I’ll return to that sandwich shop – unless to check whether they figured out a new ordering system. My poor customer experience was not only due to wait time but also how I felt throughout the process. Was I in the right place? Did I cut in line? Had a missed a sign with instructions and was now asking “dumb” questions? Confusion and self-consciousness leaves an impression that the best sandwich can't overcome. We are just talking about a sandwich here, but this illustrates the impact of customer experience on a business’ sales and reputation. As a public or non-profit organization, sales might not be relevant here. But poor client, stakeholder, or constituent experiences may be a barrier. This barrier can affect client access to services, donor funding, or organizational partnerships.
Consider your own organization: What emotions might customers experience when interacting with common processes? Customer discovery methods like surveys and empathy interviews can be used to uncover exactly this. Then process mapping can help to address pain points to improve the customer experience.
Clunky processes prevent you from exploring new directions.
Imagine the sandwich shop wanted to start serving smoothies also. Should they add another station and a staff member to manage it? With their current structure, this would add an extra stop for customers and likely increase the potential for order mix-ups. Management is likely to conclude that extra smoothie sales are not worth the costs of increased staffing, wait time, and food wasted in mix-ups. But if they instead redesigned the ordering structure, they might find adding smoothies more workable and go on to explore and test the idea.
Can you remember the last time your organization discarded a good idea because it didn’t fit in the current structure of processes and policies? Process mapping can help an organization keep its processes nimble and staff oriented to thinking outside the box of “we’ve always done it that way”.
Process mapping is a versatile tool to examine and redesign current practices in organizations. More streamlined processes make work easier, improve customer experience, and open up bandwidth for innovation. What practices in your work or life could use a redesign? I know I can think of quite a few!