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The swim lane and document maps that we blogged about recently are useful for describing processes. The swim lane map showed us who was responsible for what: Dad was driving, Mom was navigating, and in this scenario our kids were the customers. Information flow was better captured in the document map. It identified the documents handed off ateach step of the process. It also showed when status or other information was not in document form, but was spoken. But what about activity maps?
When To Use Activity Maps
Swim lane maps and document maps are descriptive rather than prescriptive: we use them to communicate what is happening today, not what we’d like to happen or what should be taking place. To change the existing process, we need to map the activities at each step and critique them for the value they add to the process. One way we can do this is with activity maps.
When It Comes to Making Changes, Start with the Small Things
Activity maps and “value stream” maps help us capture what is happening in the workplace (or, in my example, the family minivan). Activity maps are great for identifying areas ripe for streamlining or eliminating — if the activity/process doesn’t add value, it probably doesn’t belong.
Using my family vacation example, I could call a family meeting, tape our swim lane and document maps to the dining room wall, and engage my wife and kids in a conversation about the process of driving to summer camp. I would ask them for their opinions and insights about each process step, to identify opportunities for improvement. (How popular this would make me!)
We dig past generalities down to the tasks that we each perform. We look at each task and determine what’s not necessary – see if we can skip or eliminate steps. Would we get there faster? Would we each let go of “non-value-added” activities? I don’t know, but I know that an activity map could help us get the issues onto the dining room table. (Selling our analysis, conclusions, and the resulting change might require a rendered map, which I’ll cover in upcoming articles and blog posts.)
Here’s the driving process presented in activity maps:
Activity Color Code
Green steps transform the product (travel) that the customer (passenger) is receiving. These steps add real or perceived value to the product, in the customer’s eyes, so they’re called “value-added” steps. The green steps help transform the end product, whether or not the customer is aware of the transformation.
The “check/fix car” activity (at the top of the “Drive” column) is an example. Preventive maintenance in advance of the trip assures my customers a trouble-free trip, though they may not be informed of the oil change, tire rotation, fluid check, etc. Other green steps – loading/unloading luggage, occasional status reports, driving — are readily apparent to my customers.
Few would argue that waiting doesn’t add value. Any waiting “activity” (shaded in red) is a non-value-added step. Today — “Star Trek” notwithstanding — it is impossible to arrive instantly at a destination. Ideally, we would look to cutting “wait time”, but in our scenario it’s unavoidable. (Dad could go faster, but the minivan and the law enforcement authorities have their limits.) We note that some wait time is unavoidable in this case, and we proceed with the analysis.
The remaining activities (in white) will lead to further discussion and analysis. We acknowledge that these individual activities are not what the customers are buying — they’re buying the whole experience. But we can’t call all of them waste — some of them are necessary.
Can We Cut Activities?
In hindsight, the activity “Plan alternate route in case of trouble” could be considered waste. We don’t know that we will run into slowdowns, detours, open drawbridges, or inaccuracies on the roadmap/TripTik. You could cut that activity.
But we ran into all those problems. Good thing we didn’t cut the activity. However, the activity is not value-added to my customers. I could tout my wife’s exceptional planning skills and convert a non-value-added activity to a value-added one, in my customer’s opinion. If road delays were rare or unlikely, I might argue for cutting that activity. Either way, Activity Maps are the tool that helps make the conversation meaningful.