• Jen May

Clarity in one day - the single page process overview

Could you accurately describe what your business does in an average working day? Not just you, but your team, your customers and even your suppliers? Do you know who is doing the boring bits? Who/s accountable for how things are done? What it takes to supply your products and services? And, for many small business owners, what is eating away at their profit margins?

The quickest and most efficient way to get clarity of understanding of what is happening, is to capture your high level process. You can do this in a single session, immediately giving you:

- A single page overview of your business' activities

- A baseline of where you are and what changes in the future

- An ability to see hot spots and likely causes of problems

- Something to measure against

- The ability to identify accountability for each high level activity

- The opportunity to delegate process / procedure capture to the owner of each activity

We wanted to share this amazing example of what a "Simple" small to medium business' day really looks like, when you ask the right questions. That's 30 different activities (which each represent multiple sub tasks) and 18 gateways (AKA chances for people to make the Wrong Decision) .... every day.

Process Mapping is definitely something to consider calling an expert in for - it's hard work, and takes patience, logic, creativity and crazy levels of tenacity! Fortunately it's one of my favourite things to do ... and I get the same pure pleasure from finding order in chaos, that good book keepers get from a perfectly balanced ledger!

Want to map your own process?

We get the desire to Do It Yourself, especially when costs are an issue or ongoing self-development is a priority. Having said that, robust process capture is something that needs to be learnt - and practised. There's a lot to it, and that will be the subject of a future article.

In the meantime, give yourself a small test, by capturing the process of making a cup of tea, You'll be amazed, what there is to it! To get you started:

  1. Start with a whiteboard, or a large sheet of paper and Post It notes

  2. Use rectangles to represent Activities, and diamonds to show decision points

  3. For Activities, use the imperative form of a verb, plus a noun, e.g. "Fill the kettle with cold water"

  4. For decision points (known as Gateways), aim for a binary decision: that is, 2 clear opposing routes out. We like Yes / No, because this convention tends to shape the questions logically

  5. Start in the top left and move across the page, with L > R indicating time progression, and U<>D indicating handovers between resources (in this example, if might be the shopper, the tea maker and any guests)

  6. Add arrows to join each Activity to the next Activity or Gateway. There will usually be one In and one Out path. Add 2 Out arrows from each Gateway, indicating how the path splits dependent on the answer

  7. Always focus on getting the questions right (accurate, and in a logical order). Avoid trying to put more than one question in one Gateway (e.g. don't combine the question, "Do they want milk and sugar")

Now, get someone else to follow your process. How did you go?

Feeling confident? You're ready to try a simple business activity, such as how to greet a visitor. Remember to always get a peer to test your process, and don't be afraid to correct it over time.

What business benefits will mapping your process give you?

Are there benefits to mapping your processes? Many. We recommend starting Top Down (with a single overview), and Bottom Up (collating individual procedures, notes and work instructions your team has probably already captured). That way you can set a path to meet in the middle. A good high level process for a small business will probably cost you about 1/2 day in time and $1000 investment, if you hire a professional. There is immediate and substantial return on investment, as this then lets you:

Organise: We always structure process maps with swim-lanes (different people, teams or systems) and milestones (different phases). By capturing this process, we identified 4 clear phases and 3 main actors in this trade business. Realistically the owner is actually performing at least 5 roles every day (who doesn't know what that feels like) ..... giving us a clear future task, to break the activities down by role.

Quantify: Knowing there are 30 activities clearly identifies what training is required and what procedures need to be captured. This is a top-level process flow, which will later be expanded into Sub Tasks, each with its own process map, gateways and procedures. But now we can attack that mass of work calmly, and in priority order.

Identify Issues: We've blanked out the details here to protect the identity of this business, but even blank, mapping the process will visually reveal certain common issues. Here we can see some very common issues, that all businesses need to learn to spot and stop:

  • Reactive organisation: In this example the owner is arranging the day around queries, questions and issues that come in, and feeling entirely at the mercy of their inbox (phone, SMS, Messenger, Facebook, etc) to keep on top of everything. It means the owner struggles to control their working day and hours, and prioritizes the immediate over the strategic or tactical

  • Churn: Going round and round in circles without clear definition (this is a bit like looking for the car overtaking you, rather than checking for the space)

  • Parallel requirements: Dependencies and waste from activities requiring multiple actors at the same time and place

  • Dependence on escalation and approval processes: to complete activities, mean hold-ups and bottlenecks. Lack of defined roles and clear accountability means unstructured work practices

Model: We haven't added numbers to this process capture, but that is next. Let's say a business receives 100 new sales enquiries every day, we can map the flow of what happens. At the first question, "What Service", 80 want standard and 20 premium. At the next question, "On-site quote required?" 40 of the standard (50%), but 15 (75%) of the premium are Yes. You get the picture. By looking at the movement through the process, we can identify bottlenecks, illogical sequences and where profitability & productivity are impacted by the choices made. That paves the way for strategies to mitigate these issues .... and from there we can test changes and see the impacts by updating the flows.

Delegate: Prevent the excuses by clearly defining who is responsible for what, and tasking team members with capturing their key areas of activity, You may well want to check and/or polish some of these, but that is the easy, administrative part.

Baseline: Knowing exactly where you are today, means you can see how far you go in the future. We are often asks 'When is a change big enough to require formal change control?' and the easiest answer is, "When it causes your published process to change",. As soon as you have this highest level map, you can apply that standard and introduce control and quality into changes.

Liking the sound of a single page process? Here's how we can help ...

We were able to achieve all these amazing results with just a large whiteboard and 2 hours of the owner's time (and some strong coffees afterwards back at HQ). If you can see the benefit of process mapping for your business, give us a shout and gain immediate clarity, focus and a baseline to start the rest of your future change.

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