Understand The Work Process

Basic Business Cents

Some years ago, I was studying a Japanese process to solve problems and I thought I could improve upon it. I added a flow chart of the process involved as it is before the improvement work began and another after the process is improved to solve the problem, comparing the before and after. I was quite proud when I later showed it to a Japanese friend and he said, “We just assume you know what is going on in the process before you attempt to make any changes.” That may be a good assumption in Japan where they have grown up with process thinking, but I don’t think it is a good assumption here.

A very useful tool in understanding a work process is an Integrated Flow Chart. This not only lists the steps in the process, it places each step under the person/persons responsible for the step. The purpose is to show how the work flows and who is responsible for each step along the way. It will reveal inefficiencies, gaps, delays, and other streamlining opportunities. It will also show internal customer/supplier relationships.

To start, list each of the participants in the process, either individuals or groups across the top of a large sheet of paper. Draw a column for each participant or group in which all activities will be displayed. An example might be a Direct Employee Acquisition process with the headings of the columns Hiring Manager/Team, Recruiter, HR/Other Management, HR Administration, Applicant, and Outside Providers or Other.

Establish a beginning and ending process point. Use Post-it-Notes to add items or steps in the process. It is best to do this in a group of individuals with individuals from each column represented, as often there is conflict as to how the process actually works. In this case, discuss it until consensus, not compromise, is reached. People actually doing the work are key to be involved because often they are doing something different than what management believes they are doing. Sometimes they do not follow their work instructions because they do what they have to do to make the process work.

The name of the step is written inside a symbol on the flowchart in the proper columns with the keys being:

  • A rectangle for an action step
  • A diamond for a decision with a yes or no output
  • A circle for information purposes or cooperation

Arrows are filled in from one step to another, or laterally to information circles.

Do not edit the process at this time; the objective is to see how things are being done now in order to establish a baseline.

Then the group can begin to brainstorm better ways. It is interesting when people see the process on paper staring back at them, ideas will inevitably pop out on how to improve.

Process quality concerns are:

  • Anything which causes extra work or rework
  • Excessive dead time or movement
  • An apparent inefficiency in the process
  • An activity causing dissatisfaction to a customer, internal or external
  • More than one method of performing the activity
  • Anything causing dissatisfaction or pride of workmanship of the employee

When the group is satisfied they have removed rework, waste, redundancy, and streamlined the process, they can document the new, improved process.

The Integrated Flow Chart is simple and effective to use, It is also satisfying to those involved because they have a voice on low their work is to be done and will continue to discover other opportunities to improve in the future.