Process Mapping

Why collaborative process mapping is the way forward

continuous improvements
Søren Pommer
By on 12/07/2017

Here’s a problematic statement I hear often: “We want to wait so we can get our act together before we invite people outside the department to collaborate on our process mapping.” It sounds reasonable, right? Especially given how political some workplace cultures are. But the trouble is by keeping people out you lose a wonderful opportunity to win them over and gain their support and input for your change initiative.

Speak before you think?

The old saying “think before you speak” holds value, especially in those situations when speaking might result in something directly unpleasant happening, say for example, when your partner is angry at you for forgetting your anniversary, and you ask, “why didn’t you tell me”?

While a wise move to think twice in this type of situation, in others it can block progress. Speaking shapes your thinking, so if you always wait until you’ve perfectly formulated your point of view you deny it the opportunity to evolve and refine. All polished, and lacking authenticity, it’s also less likely to be influential. It won’t resonate with others in the same as if you’d just spoken with your initial enthusiasm.

Put it out there

Present your idea early on, when it’s just an intention and not a perfected plan. Then, you can invite others to participate. Framed as a “developing idea”, chances are collaborative dialogue will shape the views of everyone and improve on the original idea. This way you build momentum and gain influence. Rather than impose a concretised viewpoint, you act with enthusiasm and confidence and allow others to contribute to an engaging idea. They will all want to see it succeed.

Holding back hurts

In my experience, many organisational units develop and introduce new initiatives on the premise of “think before you speak”.  Managers and experts have a dialogue among a very small group of people. A new process or work instruction is then released to the organisation as “the new way of working” with continuous improvements. Yes, there will be training and an opportunity for feedback afterward.

However, their change management work and the search for continuous improvements only start now. “Change” management becomes about changing people’s attitudes and behaviours so it matches the official view or party line. This is hardly very inspiring. No wonder 70% of all change initiatives fail.

I know of cases where new processes were introduced as hardback books of 200 plus pages. This is not exactly a format that suggests an open dialogue or collaborative approach. It screams the Soviet Union! It certainly doesn’t invite people to give feedback and contribute to the processes through continuous improvements. The format says, “this is written in stone”.

The collaborative process mapping approach

What if you instead introduce your new initiative to a wider group of people just after the initial idea has been developed? Introduce your idea loudly and clearly but clarify that is a hypothesis only. Then, invite everyone to participate in refining and improving it.

Instead of writing a weighty tome, instead, publish your initial idea on a web page, invite dialogue and input, and keep iterating on it every week or every month.  This will motivate your colleagues to keep alive the development and continuous improvement. The people who take this approach, point out these common benefits:

Change management is not a requirement.

People get involved and stay motivated – afterward “change management” is unnecessary since the transitioning occurred alongside collaboration. Involve people early for long-term continuous improvement.

Get results faster.

You can start much earlier. Instead of spending 70% of your team’s time in 6 months, spend 100% of their time in one week, and then get the idea out for review.

Save on consultants.

Avoids the need for too many consultants. Enlist a facilitator and a guide to ask the good questions but avoid a full team of consultants that come up with too much information and complexity.

It shines a light on the winning ideas.

It kills off initiatives that don’t add value early. Let’s face it,  80% of change programs fail. The sooner you find out which of your initiatives fall into which category, the sooner you can allocate resources to those that will succeed.

The risk

The downside to this approach is it requires a lot more self-confidence than many middle managers feel. However, if you’re afraid that involving other people early will air your dirty laundry and leave you vulnerable to attack from political players, then there is something wrong with your company culture. If this is your situation then keep in mind that a good culture is your end goal, but it’s not a precondition to start. Otherwise, nothing would change. And a last few words of encouragement from me: it really is a great feeling (and relief!) to relay to someone who is willing to run…

A final word of caution!

Collaborative process mapping is simple process mapping. Otherwise, you lose people. See our Guide to simple process mapping.

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