Process Analysis is one of the key areas to making significant improvements in any process. Process Analysis can take various different forms however we’ll start at the beginning. When ever we start a Business Improvement Project there is always a process involved. Sometimes people can find this hard to understand or hard to identify however a process always exists. We have found that people working in what are seen to be more creative roles have difficulty in understanding they work in a process; an example of this is software developers that are writing software code. 

Whats a process?

One definition of a process is ‘a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end’. Key elements in this definition is a series of actions or steps; that is more than one step. The other element is ‘in order to achieve a particular end’, which indicates that the product or service transforms in some way from the beginning to the end of the process.

Process Mapping

Typically process consist of a series of steps, which can be classified into a number of different types:

  • Process Steps: Steps that transform the product or service. A process step is drawn as a rectangle on a process map.
  • Decision Steps: Steps where a decision is made. An example would be a quality check at the end of a production line; a decision is made if the product is correct or not. If it is correct then the product is passed, if not then it is rejected and either reworked or scrapped. A service example, where a purchase order is produced and then quality checked for corrects. A decision step, is drawn as a diamond in a process map.
  • Connector: A connector signifies a jump from one point in the process flow to another.

There are different types of process maps however we will stick to the most common form, the detailed swim lane process map. An example of a detailed swim lane process map is shown below for the ordering of a Pizza.

Pizza Making Process

The swim lanes are drawn horizontally and each swim lane represents a department or a different group of people involved in the process. In this case we have two groups of people; the customer and the Pizza store who makes and delivers the pizza. 

The Pizza process consists of 6 Operations steps (rectangles) and one decision step (diamond). The decision step is where a final check is carried out on the finished pizza. If the pizza is okay then its delivered to the customer. If it is not okay the Pizza is remade. This rework loop is shown back tracking from the decision step to the ‘make Pizza’ step. You will notice taht the process map flows from left to right which also represents time,

Drawing a Process Map

One thing to understand about process mapping is that usually within a process map a process exists under each of the steps. In other words there is a complete process that exists in taking an order. This leads onto an important question when drawing a process map; at what level of detail should the process map be drawn at?  Process maps can get very complicated if you drill down into each of the process boxes. The rule of thumb is draw your map at a high level first before drilling down into the detail. We generally draw a process with six steps and see if we have enough detail. If the resulting map does not provide enough detail we will go to the next level.

The process map shows connectors between the process steps. The connecting lines represent  information/product flow from one process step to the next.

When we are drawing a process map it is important that the people who work in the process are involved. We recommend ‘walking’ the process to ‘see’ what is happening in the process-In lean we call this ‘going to gemba’. Gemba is the shop floor, the place where the work is done. In our view this is the most important step to develop a process understanding before mapping the process. When we are trying to understand a process we spend time observing the processes and look for anything  obstructing the flow of the process. Obviously this is easy in a manufacturing environment but in a transactional process it is much more difficult, in this case the process operators are used to discuss and map the process steps.

We would also at this stage collect cycle time data for each step, and a list of process flow obstructions (opportunities for improvement). We will use this data to improve the process.

This process map is called the ‘As Is’ Process map, the process map that shows how the process works in its current state.

Process Analysis

The following steps are followed when analysing a process map:

1. How many departments/people groupings are involved in the process? In this case we have two. You should be asking if all of the departments are required. In this case yes. However if we       drilled down into the receive order maybe a call centre takes the order and then passes the order onto the pizza store. We should be asking if the Call centre is needed or should the order be taken directly by the store. Any time we have a vertical connecting line it represents a slowing of process cycle time and an opportunity for improvement.

2. Analyse the process for the Non Value Activities. A value Added activity is defined as: an activity that physically changes the shape or character of a product or service. The change should be something the customer is willing to pay for. In any process there are three types of process steps:

-Non Value Added: Steps that do not transfer the product or service in a manner the customer is willing to pay for. The Non Value added steps are called waste.

-Value Added: Steps that transfer the product or service in a meaningful way.

-Non Value Added but Necessary: Steps that are non value added however the step is required for the business to function

We want to eliminate the non value added steps as much as possible.

3. Review the map for Decision Making Steps (represented by a diamond). A decision making step represents an opportunity for the elimination of that step.

4. Redraw the map using the information gathered above to produce a ‘to be map. A map that represents how the process should work with as much of the ‘non value added’ and decision steps eliminated.

5. Compare the cycle time data of the ‘as is’ and the ‘to be’ process maps to quantify the possible improvement the new improved process should be able to achieve.

The above analysis is simple and relatively quick to complete and can generate a significant improvement in process performance. In our experience 20 to 50% improvement is not unusual just from the above five steps.

Next blog post we will discuss more about process waste. Process waste represents non value added activities.