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One way to set strategy is to use your clout. As the company’s chief executive and majority shareholder, convince everyone else that the direction you want to take is essential to achieving the company’s objective goals – increasing sales, improving customer satisfaction, and complying with government regulations. Maybe not the best way, but it’s one way. Where does a process map come into the picture?
Realistically, there are better ways to determine company strategy, and no one way is the best way. Any time you can take more than one route to arrive at a desirable goal, you need to balance the relative value of projects, using financial measures like ROI, or prioritization schemes like Pareto charts. This post considers the interactions between decisions, projects, and systems – in real life, few good decisions occur in isolation. Decisions must take into account that everyone in your company depends on everyone else for information and work-in-process.
Where A Process Map Comes In
Now onto introducing three types of process maps: High-level, Low-Level, and Swim Lane Process Maps.
The national map is a High-Level Process Map. It shows the major systems (states) and how communication (highways) pass through them. If you were updating your company’s automation supporting order-to-cash software, you might want to review a high-level picture showing how Purchasing moves a quote to Production, and Production sends finished goods to Shipping. A High-Level Process Map would show you right away that Shipping has to receive materials before shipping Finished Goods to customers. Knowledge of sequence and dependencies depicted in a High-Level Process Map helps you determine what happens first.
Credit checks and accounts-receivables reviews happen before granting credit to customers, so you might want to work on the estimating and accounting software packages before redoing the invoicing systems.
Like a Low-Level Process Map, Swim Lane Maps show the functions that must occur for a successful journey, like “Drive” and “Navigate” (and maybe “Keep your hands off your sister’s iPod”). Swim Lane Maps show responsibility for each activity and when various parties need to accept information from (or hand off to) one another.
One can come to appreciate that maps get all the information out in the open. And should things go in the wrong direction, you can point to the map. Interested parties can discuss the map calmly, with no need to comment on anyone’s innate abilities such as hearing or sense of direction.
At this point, you might see how Swim Lane Maps could come in handy in your company, when you consider how systems will support people who provide information and work-in-process to each other, and vice versa. For example, the sales department is supposed to hand off orders to the credit department which, in turn, performs the credit check based on management criteria. The IT department should want to know about responsibilities, dependencies, and hand-offs — which a Swim Lane Map can convey easily and concisely – before they begin to plan, develop, debug, and roll out software.