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Follow the Map
By Michael Cousins

Six Sigma encapsulates the essence of what process improvement practitioners the world over know instinctively; that things go wrong because business processes are imperfect. The perfect process, which to discover is of course a never ending quest, delivers with 100% reliability exactly what the customer wants, in the timeframe they want it and at a price they are willing to pay. An imperfect process will result in occasional late delivery, or delivery of a product that disappoints the customer. Once a business analyst has correlated customer dissatisfaction with process imperfection, the stage is set to begin improving the offending processes to better meet customer need. Six Sigma is just one of many methodologies, or frameworks, available to the business analyst to diagnose process flaws, identify ways of removing those flaws and ultimately phasing in better ways of working.

This article shows how process mapping can be used by the Six Sigma black belt or green belt to help them in two essential aspects of the Six Sigma method. The first is in the initial capture of the process where true understanding of how things are done currently is developed, this being vital to build an objective case for improving the process. The second is in the improvement phase itself where it is necessary to prototype, experiment, communicate and ultimately explain how process improvements affect the new way of doing things. This article also explains how any enterprise seeking to document a process can use the distributed process mapping methodology to get the mapping phase completed quickly and with the most accurate results, as well as ensuring total staff buy-in and ownership of the eventual outcome.

Process Mapping Critical Success Factors for Six Sigma
Any organisation seeking to improve processes as part of a Six Sigma initiative must also have a methodology for mapping the processes. And this methodology must get 3 critical success factors right:

1. It must capture the processes in a timeframe that is reasonable for the project (improvement initiatives can fail simply because by the time the problem has been properly diagnosed, the customer has already fled or the organisation has lost interest in implementing a solution)
2. It must capture the processes accurately (an inaccurate process map is less than worthless, it fosters bad decision making; if the best outcome from the process mapping phase of a six sigma project is an inaccurate or out of date process map, then the project may not just be a complete waste of time and money, it could actually be very damaging to the organisation)
3. The processes must be owned by the people that do them. By extension, any documentation such as process maps, which serve to explain or assist in the effective execution of the process, must also be owned by the people that perform the process. Without complete involvement of the team in the process mapping phase of the project, disaster could ensue – witness the recent example of how failure to involve the workforce early, openly and honestly led to an enormously damaging dispute at BA. Such things are easy to avoid, but so so difficult to recover from.

Process Maps Explained
A process is a transformation, it transforms its inputs to its outputs. A process map is a picture showing how the transformation is carried out. It shows the inputs and outputs, (best described using nouns) the activities in between (best described using verbs) and for each of the activities, the inputs and outputs used and produced. A process is not just about ‘what people do’, equal consideration should be given to ‘what people produce’. Historically, much emphasis has been attached to the study of the way people perform their jobs, i.e. the activities they carry out, or the verbs in the process map. For process improvement considerations, the emphasis rests more heavily on the outputs a person produces, the distinction in emphasis being that of activity versus productivity. In process terms, where a person does their job, the exact way they do it, what time of day they do it, or what they wear when they do it are largely irrelevant. A beach in Brazil is a perfectly good office if the required output is produced on time and at the right level of quality.

Two organisations competing for the same customers are differentiated on how well they manage to perform their processes, how well for example they transform market research into product design and development, or prospective customer interest into professional sales follow-up, and raw materials into product build. An organisation with effective processes will meet or exceed customer expectation, organisations on the other hand with ineffective processes will fail to meet customer expectation in some particular and will therefore fail to retain those customers.

Distributed Process Mapping
Recall that process mapping must be accurate, it must be fast and it must involve a high degree of staff ownership. Where in the business or sporting world can we look for other situations that have the same three critical success factors? Well, consider the pit stop required by Formula One cars during a race. Accuracy is obviously an absolute must, to incorrectly position a wheel or tighten a nut could lead to the death of the driver. Speed is of the essence, fractions of a second can be the difference between winning and losing. And ownership is crucial, each member of the pit stop team must know exactly what is expected of them, and feel responsibility and pride for doing the job well.

Imagine now two different Formula One pit stop teams. One is called the centralised team, the other the distributed team.
For the centralised team, when the car arrives the chief engineer jacks the car up, that same person then goes to each wheel in turn, removes the old one and fits the new one. He then refuels the car before eventually removing the jack. It normally takes about three minutes. The distributed team on the other hand has a specialist stationed at each position. One jacks the car, four others take a wheel each and a further person does the refuelling. No more than ten seconds pass before the car is on its way again. The distributed team is able to achieve several benefits by using their approach:

1. By using specialists, people with real practical experience and expertise, and people who know the process inside out, they gain a high degree of accuracy. Contrast with the centralised team who are using a generalist, somebody who knows a bit about everything, but not sufficiently detailed or practically experienced in any area to really understand what to do in the event of a problem.
2. By spreading the load and performing the processes in parallel, the car is able to leave the pit stop very quickly. Contrast this with the centralised team, who may have saved a few pounds on training and wages, but who can never compete.
3. By giving ownership of the task to the specialists, the specialists feel a genuine commitment and responsibility for doing the job right. A pit stop team member in the distributed team would be utterly mortified if a mistake they made cost the team the race, and they would equally be elated when the quality and speed of their work helps the team win the race.

This analogy relates to process mapping surprisingly closely. When an organisation has decided to document its process, it has two choices: distributed or centralised. The centralised model requires that a small team of business analysts, people who are specialist and experienced in process mapping and therefore typically people with no practical experience or expertise in the processes they are expected to map, is formed to map the process. This team must then interview the players in the process, in sequence rather than in parallel, until every person has been spoken to. This can take an inordinate amount of time and become the bulk of the cost of the project. Once the interview phase is over, the resultant documentation is all too often inaccurate, because it was produced by people who do not do the process they are documenting, out of date, because it took too long to create, and not owned by the people that do the process. The great irony is of course that the reason the business analyst interviews the people that perform the process is because they know the answers, and the business analyst doesn’t! It’s a ludicrous way of doing things.

A far better approach is to develop the process mapping skills of the people that know the process inside out, and let them document it. This frees up the analyst who can then focus on the higher value strategic work, it enables the map to be produced in parallel, and therefore a lot faster, and it ensures that ownership of the documentation rests where it should do, with the people that perform the process. Developing the skills of the workforce in the area of process mapping, and by extension process improvement, as opposed to developing the knowledge of the business analyst in the area of your organisation’s processes, is far more beneficial and enables long term improvement to become deeply embedded in the organisation.

To summarise the major point then, distributed process mapping requires the responsibility for process documentation to be assumed by the teams that perform the process, rather than have those processes documented on behalf of the team by a person external to the team. The result is a more accurate, more rapidly produced and more appropriately owned process map together with a more highly skilled workforce with a greater understanding of their processes and how to improve them. Everybody wins.

Worked Example
Nearly all commercial organisations receive Invitations to Tender (ITTs). The ITT is an external trigger, an event that happens that requires a process to take in order for the organisation to respond. There are many such process triggers; a customer arriving at a restaurant, a supplier sending in an invoice, a phone call from a person requiring information are obvious examples. The ability of an organisation to respond to these triggers efficiently and with high quality is the extent to which that organisation has competitive advantage over other organisations that also receive the same process triggers. If, for example, a burger restaurant can produce burgers that taste as good as a competitor’s, but at 10% more cost and another 60 seconds in production time, it won’t be in business very long. The burger production process in the restaurant, that begins with the arrival of a customer and ends with the customer taking away the burger, needs to be improved.

With an ITT, there is a process that receives the ITT, analyses it, responds to it, follows-up the response, negotiates the contract and ultimately leads to the issuance of an invoice followed by the receipt of funds. This level of process description is quite high level, no discussion has taken place about how to analyse the ITT, what template to use to respond and where problems occur in the process. Process mapping incorporates a mechanism that allows the user to draw a process map at a high level of detail, where the complexity in any particular area is put to one side, but also allows the reader of the map to navigate to the richer information sources that reveal the detail under any specific aspect of the process.

In the ITT response process outlined above, note also that no mention has been given as to what gets produced at each step of the way. It is essential in process mapping that the map author doesn’t just identify what they do (their Activities), but also identifies what they are expected to produce when they perform their Activities (their Deliverables). It is possible to construct a table, referred to as an IPO table (Input Processing Output) that is a representation of the ITT response process. This is shown in Table 1.

Table 1 - IPO Table for Respond to ITT

Input Processing Output
ITT Generate a receipt and send to customer Acknowledgement of Receipt
ITT Analyse the ITT Briefing Paper for Full Response
Briefing Paper for Full Response Respond to the ITT Draft response to ITT
Diarised Follow-up Meeting
Draft response to ITT
Diarised Follow-up Meeting
Prepare final response to ITT Final response to ITT
Final response to ITT Negotiate contract Contract for Supply
Contract for Supply Issue Invoice Invoice
Receipt of Funds
Receive Payment Settled Invoice

This equivalent process map representation is given in Figure 1.

Figure 1 - Respond to ITT

Note how this map describes at each step of the way what is to be done, and also what the outcome is? Note also how the map is a logical process, no mention has been made of which department carries out the various tasks. The elliptical Deliverables are external, those that either leave or arrive from outside the organisation. A reasonable question when looking at this map is “How do I analyse the ITT”. More generally, what is the mechanism for describing in more detail any specific part of a process map? Conventionally, this is achieved by double-click drill-down, and is often referred to simply as “drill-down” or “activity decomposition”. To extend the example, drilling-down on “Analyse the ITT” could lead to a map similar to the map shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 - Drill-down on Analyse ITT

Note how the inputs and outputs to this map, “ITT” and “Briefing paper for full response” are the same as the input and output on the Activity “Analyse the ITT” in Figure 1. This maintaining of the logical flow between different levels in the process map is an important indicator of good quality documentation.

Applications of the Process Map
Having documented such a process, the applications of it are limited only by the imagination. It is possible to use the map to help identify where poor communication lines exist across departmental boundaries, or where errors occur repeatedly. Value stream analysis can be carried out to help identify those Activities that the customer actually wants to pay for, and those they don’t. New staff can be trained using the process map as a guide, rather than reams and reams of written text.

Within a six sigma project, measurements can be captured behind each element of the map representing the key quantities that are being studied, for example, I have seen maps used to capture FMEA data to help in subsequent improvement workshops. In the Respond to ITT process, a key measure could be the proportion of ITTs won that actually result in a profitable contract. Suppose this to be 85% at the start of the six sigma project; provided it can be demonstrated at the end of the project that a higher proportion of ITTs are profitable then the project has been successful on at least one count. This could be achieved by realising that in the preparation of the briefing paper, a preliminary cost assessment needs to be made to ensure that the organisation can fulfil the requirements of the tender within a customer supplied guideline, i.e. the drill-down process would be better with the additional step “Assess ITT for profitability” shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 - Improved ITT Response

Software Tools to Support Six Sigma Process Mapping
There is a densely populated market place of vendors of process mapping products. When last I looked there were some 160 vendors of software tools claiming to offer at least some degree of process mapping functionality, so the problem is one of too much choice rather than a scarcity of choice. However, for the six sigma practitioner, the apparent choice can be narrowed by clearly understanding the critical success factors behind the project, and then considering how any particular product helps or hinders the attainment of this success.

Recall the three critical success factors when documenting processes:

1. Accuracy
2. Speed of capture
3. Staff involvement

The distributed mapping methodology described in this article ensures each of these objectives are met fully. So, when considering what tool to use to support your project, the real question is the extent to which the tool supports the distributed methodology. A software tool that is targeted at business analysts, requiring highly technical skills or deep consultancy type knowledge to use or exploit is most unlikely to work in a six sigma environment. A product that can be used by people with limited exposure to the ideas of business processes is much more likely to deliver the required result.

Although it is not possible to supply a definitive list of functional requirements that a product must meet in order to be short-listed for use on a six sigma project, there are certainly at least three key questions that need ‘Yes’ responses before you spend any time looking more closely at a product. These are listed as high priority items in Table 2. Really, if the answer to any of these high priority questions on your Request for Information is ‘No’ or ‘Don’t Know’, don’t waste your time short-listing the product.

Once you have built your shortlist based on the three critical high priority questions, the remaining questions and a suggested priority will help you ultimately select a product. Of course, you must really construct this list for yourself based on the actual project requirements you have, the questions are guidelines only. An assumption is made in this list of requirements that the basics are covered, i.e. drill-down, ease-of-use etc.

Table 2 - Process Mapping Tool Selection Criteria

Requirement Priority Comment
Does the process mapping tool support distributed process mapping? High This is the start point. If the answer to this question is No, then really the product is unsuitable for six sigma. Any tool requiring a centralised approach to process mapping necessarily requires a business analyst to spend time capturing processes on behalf of everybody else, chewing up precious time, burning through money, confusing process ownership and building inaccurate process models that few people can understand.
Does the tool expose an open interface so that you really own the data and can do with it what you like? High Proprietary storage formats are also an absolute non-starter. Unless the product exposes its data so that you can get to it, you will be forever frustrated in your attempts to gain value from the product. There are a variety of ways mapping tools expose their data, but really, these days XML is the way to go. If you are looking at a mapping product and the tool does not expose all its data in an XML format, the tool will be much more difficult to integrate with other applications and it should be excluded from your shortlist.
Can the tool help me continually improve the end-to-end processes within the scope of my project? High Again, this is an absolute need. It is a waste of time simply mapping a process if the map itself cannot then be used by the people that do the process to actually capture the data that will help you drive continual improvement and diagnostic workshops. When you process map, you aren’t just seeking to produce a ‘picture’, you are seeking to produce a digital model that can live and grow with your business.
Ability to create process maps in a Web site format. Medium The Web is a perfect vehicle for everybody in your organisation to view the process maps, perfect because it is free and read only. Unless you can, with just a few clicks of the mouse, actually generate the entire process map in Web format, complete with click-through navigation links, links to supporting documentation and re-sizeable views, you are giving yourself a headache you don’t need. Look very closely at product capabilities in this area, and accept nothing less than a 100% reproduction of your process maps in Web format with no additional time required on your part.
Ability to capture whatever process data you need to support your project. Medium Unless you can specify the process characteristics you are interested in capturing, what is the point of using a product at all? So, your mapping tool must support complete customer ownership of the definition of the data captured with the process map, and ideally not by having to edit a SQL Server database either!
Easy symbol customisation. Low It is important for you to be able to choose what symbols you use in your process descriptions. However, you may also discover that the vendor supplied symbols are perfectly adequate, and do you really want to invest the time and money to modify them? Given a choice between two products, their only difference being the ability to customise the symbol set, go with the customisable version.
Automated alerts and notifications. Low This area is a strange one. It seems convenient at one level to be notified automatically every time something of interest happens, and therefore intuitively of high value. However, in practice, automated alerts are not as powerful as they first seem as busy people tend to wait until something is important enough for another person, rather than a machine, to spend the time to remind them!

Distributed process mapping can undoubtedly play a major part in any six sigma initiative. The very act of mapping out a process is itself a great step forward in understanding how the process can be improved. Combine this with real-time capture of process related metrics; with the capability to integrate business process data with other applications; with the increased knowledge, skills and buy-in of the workforce, then process mapping can actually help transform an organisation. Process Navigator, from my own company Triaster, was one of the first tools in the marketplace in December 2000 to offer a fully distributed approach to process mapping, and this can be downloaded from http://www.triaster.co.uk if you would like to see how such a tool could help with your project.

If there is one principle that stands out above all others in the domain of process improvement and process mapping, it is the one captured very nicely by Elna Blass, director of process innovation at Harley Davidson .

“Blass’ basic approach is to offer her services, get people understanding the process, and then get out of the way. She consults closely with the business unit in question but makes its staff do the work of process mapping … Harley recently redesigned its invoicing system to a deafening silence and no resistance.”

Harley Davidson, with their distributed approach to process mapping, are clearly a winning team; if you are going to use process mapping in your project, make sure you are like Harley Davidson, and not like the losing projects that limp home 12 months late and overspent with everybody else wandering what on earth is going on. With process mapping, distribution helps ensure complete success, any other way and you are short changing both your organization and yourself.

(Published in Six Sigma Today Launch Issue, Oct 03)


Dr Michael Cousins (PhD) is the Managing Director and Chief Software Architect of Triaster Limited, a software company specialising in the provision of process mapping software. Triaster has hundreds of clients across the world, and Michael has worked with many of these organizations in a consultative and advisory capacity, including Microsoft, Nokia and the BSi, to help them quickly and accurately capture their enterprise process maps. He is a regular public seminar speaker, both nationally and internationally, and has written extensively for the UK quality and technical press.

Telephone:+44 (0)1491 821800
Email: info@triaster.co.uk
Web: www.triaster.co.uk







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