Process Maps for Empowerment: Why Visual Business Processes are Important
While I was growing up my dad worked at a paper mill in central Minnesota. A paper mill really isn’t a place for kids, and I only went there a handful of times in his entire 45-year career. One of these times, after we were done watching a gigantic machine the size of a football field turn wood pulp in to paper, he brought me to a wall where there was a 14-inch-wide by 70-foot-long schematic drawing of that paper machines process. He walked me through that entire drawing and thus, at a very young age I could tell you exactly how that machine worked. It was something about seeing it drawn on the page and validated by seeing the process work in real life that made the whole thing click. It’s a no brainer to draw out industrial processes like paper making, but it’s important in service industries as well and the benefits and effects are the same.
At Metal Toad, the process map was born in February 2016 and was a collaborative endeavor between department heads. Our process is still being refined and is reviewed by the Director team each quarter. The process map hangs on the whiteboard in our main hallway and the Toads have an opportunity to add sticky note feedback about parts of the process they feel need improvement, need clarification, or are working well. The Toads love having a say in how things work and is empowering because our business processes become a process that is built by the Toads. It’s not a process built by the higher ups as “you shall do this.” It becomes a “we will do this.” Everyone is an owner of the process.
Visual and kinesthetic learners love the process map. Like I experienced at the paper mill, there is something about being able to touch a process as a hands on learner and have that validated by a drawing that proves how something works. It doesn’t mean the process always works the way it was intended, the paper machine broke all the time, but a process map gives you a visual to identify where parts of the process break down and where to focus your fixes.
Another benefit is transparency in training. Historically, Metal Toad taught new Toads through oral tradition, and there will always be that part of onboarding, but now there is a visual to point to. Toads new and old use the process map as a learning tool and it’s a great conversation topic for clients and even potential new Toads. It reminds us that we know what we’re doing and we have a picture to prove it. New Toads can learn about their department and all the things their department does and how what each Toad does relates to others in the company. It’s also used as a platform for the Toads to stand on to push back on the leadership from above.
Finally, it’s a really cool business artifact! It’s a snapshot of the business processes that were going on at a certain point in time. The current map starts when there is a potential client prospect and ends after a project is archived. I use Visio or Lucid Chart to make the map and have sub maps for Human Resources and Marketing processes that feed in to the main chart. If you’re new to process mapping this is a really good resource. I encourage you to try it and see how it feels at your company. If your company already has a process map, review it frequently and get that baby printed and up on the wall. To quote Tim Jones from 72andSunny, “when and idea is at your desk, it’s yours. but when it’s up on the wall, it’s everybody’s.” Even the paper mills process map felt like mine all those years ago.