We talk a lot about mapping out your processes. How important it is to do, what benefits it can bring your business and why you need to understand what your processes are if you want to develop and grow. But we haven’t talked much about how you physically map out your processes, or what’s involved in getting it all out of your head and down on paper. So today, that’s what we’re going to talk about. In particular, we want to walk you through the process of brown paper mapping – the technique we love the most when it comes to process mapping.
Brown Paper Mapping
Brown paper mapping is a way of drawing out a process from start to finish, and then using the opportunity to critique the process and improve it. It was initially designed for new product introduction, but it can be used for pretty much any process within a business. It’s sometimes described as a ‘rough and ready’ process mapping style, but when you’re just starting to get your processes written down it’s a perfect option. We recommend focussing on one process at a time, rather than trying to map out your whole business in one go.
In rough terms, brown paper mapping goes something like this:
- Prepare: Grab yourself a big piece of paper. Brown was traditionally used since it was easiest to find in large sizes, but any paper will do. You’ll also need to collect examples of every document used at all stages of the process. If you use templates, then these will work for illustration purposes. The kind of documents you need include those that communicate or record information (so purchase orders, project plans, timesheets, parts lists), and any documents that form part of the process you’re trying to map out.
- Arrange The Documents On Paper: Separate out the documents and arrange them on the paper to demonstrate the overall flow of the process. It helps to start at the top left, aiming to finish at the bottom right hand corner. Where there isn’t a document for a step, write down what that step entails on a sticky note and put that in place. If there are other people involved in the process in any way, bring them in to add their part to the process. This means you will have a more complete picture. You may find you end up moving things around as the overall story becomes clearer.
- Draw The Process: Now, draw out the process on a new piece of paper. Using the documents as a guideline, working from left to right and top to bottom, draw everything out in detail. Wherever possible, use standard flow chart symbols, to depict: start and stop points; specific processes and activities; inputs/outputs to/from activities; decision points – Y/N/Maybe; document storage. It should be possible to run through the process and follow the flow of decisions and information.
- Map The Phases: Map the key project phases, with a dotted line around activities, documents and decision points within that phase. If no phases are currently defined, them using the process map as a guide, define some process stages. Make sure that all phases are represented and nothing is missed out.
- Critique The Process: Now that you have your process mapped out in detail, it’s time to take a step back from it. Look at the process as a whole and see if it all makes sense. Are you duplicating your work anywhere? Are there areas where the process gets too complicated, and could be simplified? Are there elements missing, which are causing problems in the process? Work with your team to brainstorm how you can improve the process and where you could change things to make it more efficient and easier for the people involved.
- Record Actions And Improvements: Make a note of all of your ideas. The critique process should generate some pretty specific actions and ideas for further consideration, and you don’t want to forget any of them. Record them all and assign any actions to the right people.
- Re-Engineer: Finally, do the actions and implement the changes! Re-engineer your process to reflect the changes you wanted to make, and re-evaluate it at the end. You may want to repeat the mapping process at this stage to make sure the new process all flows together. This should leave you with a simpler, more efficient process that can be replicated time and time again.
How Do I Map My Processes?
All of that might sound complicated, but mapping out your processes doesn’t have to be a big difficult thing. And you definitely don’t have to struggle through it alone!
At Libreea, we work with business owners who want to understand their business processes properly, and use that information to create real change within the business. We regularly run practical process mapping workshops, where you can come along with your team and draw out all of those processes step by step, and optimise them at the same time.
We also run talks and seminars on process mapping, with our next one (all about Practical Process Mapping) coming up on the 12th of November in London. At these talks, we cover the basics of what a process is and how to apply it to your business, right through to helping you identify the ‘right time for process’, the benefits of process mapping and how to implement process tools and software within your business. If you would like to know more, sign up to the event here, or get in touch with us today for your free consultation.