Business information process mapping is an important step in business process improvement, but it can become a complex and difficult activity.
Before you began to map processes, your team needs to agree on what mapping tool you will use. There are many mapping tools available. The most well known tool is Visio from Microsoft. If you do a Google search on business process modeling tools you will see many different tools. The cost of the tool varies significantly. Visio costs a few hundred dollars, but at the other end of the spectrum you can spend over $100,000 for a tool from IBM that is not only an outstanding mapping tool but it also allows you to link existing processes and data, and provide workflow for routing information throughout the organization. This tool is an interesting approach to process improvement for companies that have older legacy systems surrounded by many disparate database systems or islands of information.
After you have agreed on your approach to process mapping, the best way to start is to develop an index of all business processes. This is not a map but a high level sentence description of the business processes that will be mapped. Examples are: order to cash, procure to pay, concept to product launch. Or, your team may elect to organize processes around functional lines such as purchasing, or accounts payable. These high level process descriptors often can be put into a level 1 map organized by swim lanes with each major process placed in the swim lane for an area of the business.
Once you have established your top level index of business processes, you then begin to build out lower levels business processes. For instance the top level process is Accounts Receivable, the next level might be Cash Application, Credit Management, Customer Statements. Each of these departmental processes are then expanded into process flow. An example is a detail flow of the Cash Application process. If needed a process step in a process flow may be expanded into a sub process flow to provide more detail.
The result becomes a process documentation hierarchy with 4 levels such as:
- Level 1 – Enterprise
- Level 2 – Department
- Level 3 – Process
- Level 4 – Sub Process
Depending on your mapping tool you will need to support each level 3 and level 4 process map with support information. Each process step should have a supporting document that describes the inputs to the process, a description of the process itself, and the outputs from the process. Additionally, the supporting document defines the user of the process and any metrics associated with the process step. We refer to these documents as Business Process Activity Definition. In this document you describe in detail the input, process, and output for each process box.
While you are documenting each process, the team should examine the process and identify problems with the current process. Also the team should also discuss the need for improvement.
This approach will results in the development of the following process documents:
- Process Index
- Process flows – Level 1, 2, 3 , and 4 (optional)
- Business Process Activity Definition – for Level 3 and 4 processes
This level of documentation is required before you can proceed with business process improvement.