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Business process maps display a visual step-by-step depiction of business processes with the goal of improving business process management. Processes are instances when a set of interrelated people, machines, or tasks work to produce the same output. Business process mapping visually represents any aspect of a business to help increase efficiency, from accident-prone stages in a manufacturing line, to the handling of interdepartmental mail.
Processes to be mapped can be defined by including inputs, procedures, sequences and outputs. Mapping software then uses these parameters to build the map. Maps can be simple or complex in nature, depending on the format. Typical options include adding simultaneous action and decision-making processes, emotional responses, and time lags. Maps can be created on paper, through business process mapping software or more complex Business Process Management Systems.
Benefits of constructing process maps include easy diagnosis of performance lags, evaluation of system design, and business process management. Visualizing the process from input to output can make it easier to identify inefficiencies. Process maps individualize and isolate variables that affect value, giving analysts the chance to streamline, innovate and remove ambiguity from processes. When implementing new changes to the system, business process maps help employees understand their new roles, easing the transition and productivity lag time sometimes associated with new equipment.
Business process mapping can also identify needs for additional personnel or training, complete job necessity analyses, and establish a competency modeling system. Streamlining organizations from a human resource management perspective helps with organizational development. For example, employees who can see how their jobs fit into the bigger picture, and see the jobs of others as well, can gain a better understanding of imbalances in work loads and how those imbalance might affect redistribution. Small intra-organizational groups typically conduct process mapping, and teamwork needed to create and analyze the maps encourages communication, community and group critical thinking.
Business process mapping can be used by any business in any industry to improve processes. It is intrinsically similar and often interchangeable with the following terms: system task analysis, process diagramming, flow-charting, and work mapping. The goal for all of these tools is the same: to improve processes and to create value. Differentiation of these terms becomes important only in regard to purchasing management software and when seeking accreditation.
Quality management systems, such as the ISO 9000, use process maps to certify businesses as having formalized and documented business processes. Accreditation through the ISO 9000 doesn’t ensure quality products or services; it shows stockholders, employees and clients that the participating business has a commitment to understanding and improving their business processes. Popularity of businesses seeking accreditation implies that, for many, business process mapping has also had positive effects on increasing profitability and value.
Good process maps are an essential tool for process analysis for the reasons described in this article. Unfortunately, most process maps are prepared at a high level with very little detail that would help with analysis or training. Most don't even describe what is flowing through the process, thereby providing little value for an improvement team.