Process Mapping – Clearing A Path to Greatness

I don’t often write about my job on this blog, but today I had an interesting work conversation that relates to Trashmagination.

So one of the things I do at work is called “process mapping” and it means making a diagram or a document that summarizes how a process works. Almost ten years ago, I took a course and it has been the most useful project management training I ever took.

Most people who took the course with me used process mapping to draw a process as it is. That can be quite illuminating. It can be used to train new staff. But to really get the value from process mapping, you need to take it to the next level. You need to draw the process as it could be if it was awesome.

One thing I have observed is that most people kick off their process mapping efforts with a big meeting with all the stakeholders. I do not like this method. I think it actually adds credibility to the process before you have even started mapping it. Just the weight of all those people in one room – it makes it seem like you are endorsing the process. It feels like consensus decision-making, or worse, it feels like a war among stakeholders if people get defensive about their part of the process.

I prefer to start a process mapping by interviewing the one or two people who know it best. It might take more than one interview. The first effort is just to get it down. The second effort is to ask them about all the little ways they ever imagined changing or improving it. Anyone who has lived with a bad process, and who has any creativity, has dreamed of changing it. It’s this part that I call “hearing people’s pain” and I think it is the part that must be done in private if it is to be honest.

Once I have a skeleton of a process map, I then interview other people who are involved or impacted by the process. Their pain and expertise is different. They may articulate the impacts better, or they may have nifty improvement ideas because they are not so deeply embedded in the process. That “outsider’s perspective” is one that I read about in Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.

Creating A Safe Place

I am a huge fan of the Crucial Conversations method, and in that method it notes that all important conversations must start from a place of safety. Today on Facebook, the authors put up this quote:

“When we feel safe, we embrace truth. When we embrace truth, we feel empathy. When we feel empathy, we take responsibility.” – Joseph Grenny

That’s exactly the approach I take with process mapping. First we create safety. Then we hear truth. Then we feel empathy for this poor person who has had to live with a poor process, a process that has been frustrating and soul-destroying, taken up their creative brain space, held them back from greatness. Process improvement expert Dr. W. Edwards Deming noted that 94 percent or more of all problems, defective goods or services came from the system, not from a careless worker or a defective machine. If we can just help this person improve the process around them, we will put them on a path to greatness!

That’s Why Process Mapping Is Part of Trashmagination

And that’s the connection to Trashmagination. So much of what I do is taking something that is not valued, or gets in the way, or has untapped potential – and make it great. So that’s why process mapping is one aspect of my work that I really enjoy – at least in the moment when I’m listening to that person and mapping a better future.

Of course, the worst part of process mapping is making that future plan, and then having no uptake from the people who need to do something. So the last part of the quote – “When we feel empathy, we take responsibility.” – that’s the hard part. Because it’s hard to express the pain in a professional document in a way that makes others take responsibility. It’s just so neat and tidy when they get that document from me. They can check that box as “done” when in fact, it’s just the beginning.

It’s that last step that is difficult with Trashmagination as well. It’s nifty to see things made from recycled materials. But it’s hard to stop buying the stuff that creates the trash in the first place.

Thanks Schelli

Thank you to my supervisor Schelli for asking me to explain how I approach process mapping. I don’t think I ever sat down to articulate why I do it this way, or why I get nervous when asked to do more.

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