When we think about maps, the most familiar to us is possibly the roadmap. Then, if we put multiple maps together- we can create an atlas. These are great for allowing us to see where we are, and where we might want to go. We can ever use our maps to trace a route in order to plan a journey. However, roadmaps are only one type of atlas. We could have in a mind a world atlas, in which case we can identify continents and counties, but might find it hard to plan a journey from city to city due to lack of detail.
Conversely, it might be that we have in mind a street map, with very low levels of detail but hardly practical in journeying from one side of the country to another. Other examples might be nautical maps, flight maps, or walking and climbing maps. All of these are designed and constructed for a particular purpose. When using the maps for that purpose, they perform well. When using them for the wrong purpose, we are going to struggle. Many will also find that if we try to combine the maps together to create a multi-purpose map, we would create something that would in effect be difficult to read and likely to serve none of the intended audiences.
In business practice, we know almost instinctively when looking at a map what its purpose might be and whether or not it might be suitable for us. The same need for clarity of purpose should be true when mapping our processes.
As with the analogy of atlases, we also know that knowledge changes over time. We know that new or different information can change our perceptions of what is. Fundamentally, we understand that they an atlas is a static representation of the world. We accept that depending on the level of the map, there will be details missing, whether low level or high-level detail depending on the scale and purpose. The same requirement for decisions needs to be made when mapping processes. It’s not likely to be able to recreate a business based on the maps alone.
We created our maps with precision and purpose and now we must use them to reach our goal. In order to reach our goal, we need to use these maps to plot the best route based on our opinion and visual aids. If we follow the maps properly, we will be able to succeed. However, if there are new opportunities we did not account for or old avenues we did not consider, there is the possibility of running into some unforeseen complications. People may question the credibility of the work we have accomplished using these maps if complications arise. The issue is that maps will allow us to plan a route from A to B, but the route we take might not be suitable once we add in other requirements. Once we add in additional requirements such as cost, speed, resources etc. then we start to find that maps are not the most efficient.
In this case, we need to find an alternative way to reach our goal. We start to see the benefit of route planning software or GPS systems that are based on models rather than maps. This needs to occur with our process projects as well. We may use maps to a certain point but then we need to switch to making use of models. From another perspective, maps are static representations of the world and once they are drawn, they are difficult to change.
Making changes can be difficult but it is not impossible. Change becomes even harder if one change results in a domino effect and has an impact on other aspects of our process. For example, if we decide to change the visual representation for a particular item, will it reflect in other areas. The visuals we create with tools such as Visio and Powerpoint are only maps at best. Alone, they inherently suffer from lack of linkage, ability to change and see that change represented everywhere.
In order to create a detailed analysis to discuss the impact, time, what-if, resource etc. then our maps will not be suitable, we will need a model. In today’s world, the best example of rich models we use can be perceived like a GPS Navigation system. Using these devices, we can assess multiple route options based on a variety of criteria. Compared to standard maps, these routes are seamless. It can also take much longer to build a model than a map due to the amount of detail needed such as resources, cycle times, wait times, costs etc. The more detailed the definition contained in the chart, the better the analysis.
In part, this is why modeling tools are perceived as being difficult to use because they are designed to provide a hearty analysis and allow the computer to do some of the comparisons and calculations for you. Maps can only be compared with other maps by using the human eye and a variety of other spreadsheets and calculators. Even then, so much analysis may not be efficient. Whether to use a map or a model depends on your purpose. You may need to use a simple map at first to know what the process is and how to simplify it as a proper first step. This approach is taught in my own classes and seminars as a tremendous first step for opportunities to be discovered.
However, if you want a more detailed analysis you need to take the simplified map and enter it into a modeling tool. It’s also better, in the long run, to store maps in a modeling tool because its practical to maintain the maps and interdependencies. Many suggest that the effort to build models is not justified, yet they may just be saying they cannot be bothered to undertake the time for a proper analysis or do not care for calculating cost and timing. However, for those who wish to pursue any kind of automation models will need to be built. The cost of implementing a poorly designed process or procedure is just too expensive.
There is also the assumption that your business contains more than one process. Understanding those interdependencies would add value and enable better business decisions. The proper suggestion would be to use a map to understand and define a process or problem. The resultant map can be used to look at waste reduction or other improvement opportunities. The original map helps us eliminate wasted activities, rules, moments of truth etc. and we can better capture the resultant map in a model adding details as required. Based on experience, this seems to be the most cost-effective moving toward managed processes in a practical way. The act of modeling first and them eliminating is an expensive path to go down. In the context of Business Process Management (BPM) this distinction is vital to managing our processes. To properly manage our processes we have to find a way of filing them to enable navigation for later on. The act of filling in effect is another way of taking maps, binding them together and when grouped they become manageable. Taking if further, once they are linked together we can carry out the impact and change analysis and monitor across maps.
Therefore if we wish to undertake BPM, we need to put everything together with a cohesive and coordinated manner. In order to achieve a truly effective BPM, we need models. Just working with maps we can visualize and improve but we will find difficulty managing them effectively.
About the Author:
Mark McGregor is Head of Strategy at Signavio. A former Research Director at leading IT industry analysis firm Gartner, McGregor has an extensive background in enterprise architecture, business process management, and change management, having held executive positions with a number of technology companies. Widely respected for his knowledge and views on business change, he is the creator of “Next Practice” and has variously been described as a “BPM Guru”, a “Thought Leader” and a “Master of Mindset”.