I tell women to learn their company’s operating and management systems as a foundation for building a success career. But most women (and men) have never been taught how to think in terms of systems or how to map out processes so my advice may seem daunting.
If you took the initiative to search the web you may have been overwhelmed. Mapping processes seems complicated! There are symbols that you use to create diagrams to convey specific functions. The experts have names that require you to twist and contort your mouth in an attempt to pronounce. And it seems everyone has a PhD.
But the reality is that you don’t have to make it complicated for most of your purposes. No one needs to be well versed in systems or processes design. Here’s how I got a project started on mapping its processes.
A few years ago I was assigned to a project that was not going well – we were beyond being up to our waist in alligators! Every Great American Alligator Slayer in the company made his pilgrimage out to the project and told us that if we “Do X”, we would be over the hump and the project would smooth out. So we did as we were told. After a few months we had some great alligator hides hanging around the conference room but the project was getting worse. While we were shooting the large alligators, thousands of alligators hatched and were growing bigger.
All of the Great American Alligator Slayers gathered again at the project to come up with a new plan. There were no new ideas. In frustration they told the young Project Manager to make a list of all the new issues and tackle them one-by-one. The young PM looked back at them and said “That’s what I’ve been doing. I get 2-3 items taken off the list a day but then add 6-8.”
There was dead silence. No one had an answer. I then took the opportunity to pitch my approach.
I went up to the front board and said “Let’s talk about how we deal with materials we purchase for the project – our Material Control process.” I then picked a starting point – we have a contract for materials. Now what?
Materials have to be ordered.
Who orders the material and in what quantity?
It was decided that the superintendent would determine how much to order and the delivery date. The project engineer would place the order and track the quantity remaining on the contract. He would confirm back to the superintendent the delivery date.
OK, now the delivery date is here and the truck arrives with the material.
Now what? Who is going to receive the delivery, inventory it and make sure it is stored properly? It was decided that the assistant superintendent would handle the material delivery.
So now that we have the material what else has to happen? We want to get paid for it! What do we need to do to get paid?
Within an hour we had the process drawn out in simple boxes with lines connecting the boxes. We determined that we needed a Material Coordinator and decided who in the company to bring out to the site for that position.
When we were done the PM looked up from his task list and says “I just crossed 8 items off my list!”
Again dead silence but this time, the silence of amazement. Finally the gruffest Alligator Slayer in the company points to the board and says “Do that!”
The Process Meeting was born. (I will write more about how I evovled this meeting in my next article.)
To map out processes you don’t have to do much more than pick a starting point and start asking questions:
“Who does that?”
“When does that need to happen?”
“What else is there?”
If you are leading the discussion, you don’t have to have the answers. This is a collaborative process. I try to let the group figure out the processes and just ask the questions. I look for missing tasks and connections.
I also include as many people as possible even people who aren’t actively involved in the process so we get a wider perspective. It is important to ask “why” a lot and let the group modify existing procedures to develop a more comprehensive and effective process.
Don’t be overwhelmed by the prospect of process mapping. Keep it simple. I often think the biggest mistake we make in trying to teach process mapping at work is that we start out making it more complex that we need to. Process mapping is a significant change to how most people were taught to solve problems. We have to win them over in the thought process before we critique and teach higher level techniques.
Empowered women keep it simple to get buy-in on change.
I want to hear your thoughts and opinions so leave a comment!!
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