industrial assembly lines can become more efficient through process mapping

Regardless of the situation, whether it is completing a simple task like filing paperwork or creating a physical product, efficiency in executing the day-to-day processes of a business is crucial to success. 

Non-value added time, idle time, and other bottlenecks that disrupt workflow often seem somewhat innocuous. However, over time as more and more pile up throughout the given process, efficiency can plummet. When efficiency plummets, work cannot get done in the manner it needs to be done to meet the demands of customers, which will result in a loss of quality. When quality is compromised, the bottom line is compromised.

The problem is, as Pearl Engineering Mechanical Engineering Associate Mike Evans explains, when enacting the same process day-in and day-out, it can become difficult to see the forest through the trees.

“When an organization ‘lives’ within their process for a long period of time, it is easy to become almost complicit in the inefficiency,” Evans said. “You get comfortable with it and can quickly lose grasp of the overall scope of the process and lose best practices.”

As difficult as it may be for those deeply rooted within them, being able to take a step back and make an unbiased evaluation of the processes most important to an organization is the only way to identify bottlenecks and improve efficiency, and circumnavigate the causes of to prevent harm to the end product or bottom line. 

The best way to do so, according to Evans, is through the exercise of process mapping.

What is Process Mapping?

A process map is a graphical representation and breakdown of how something gets done. Theoretically, a process map can be created for something as simple as ordering a sandwich at the local deli. However, in more practical applications, it is used by organizations to map out more complex tasks such as the process for which an organization produces its goods.

Using common or mutually agreed and understood symbols, process mapping details the steps taken to complete the task or process, as well as detailing the flow and any inputs and outputs. The result should be an easy-to-follow illustration, similar to a flow chart.

The purpose of a process map is to give the key individuals involved in the process a clear visual illustration of how the process is completed, offering that opportunity to look at it as a whole and not just their individual piece of it. 

By comparing how the process should be completed by best practices versus how it is actually completed, organizations should be able to quickly identify where breakdowns in the process are occurring or are likely to occur and make the necessary improvements or adjustments. Breakdowns can come in the form of common stalls in the process, points where the process takes longer than it should, points at which certain available resources are not being utilized, and more.

“It is an excellent way to help production and maintenance teams really understand their value-added time,” Evans said. “ Once you identify where the biggest losses are coming from, it is easy to find those nuggets of information for improvement.”

At Pearl Engineering, for example, we utilizes a process map for every new project taken on to ensure every project gets started correctly.

When Should Your Process Map be evaluated?

It is important to think about a process map not as something that is ever “completed.” After all, a process map is meant to present the process as it would be completed under an ideal scenario. And, as we all know, the ideal scenario is usually not the reality.

Changes within an organization such as new tools, employees, or new steps added to the process are going to have a serious impact on how the process is going to be performed. Because changes come in all shapes and sizes, an organization should ideally be reevaluated on a regular basis.

“Anytime there is a drastic change within an organization, process maps need to be reevaluated,” Evans said. 

Building Your Process Map

Most processes are not done in a vacuum. So, although helmed by the process or area lead, just as there are many people who play a role in executing a process, it is important to incorporate every relevant person when evaluating the process map. 

It is important for an accurate and helpful process map that each and everyone apart of creating it understands each area of the process from beginning to end. This includes documenting information such as where the product is coming from, where it is going, upstream constraints, and downstream constraints.

It is also important to be as detailed as possible. It is only through looking at the process in as much depth and detail as possible that a breakdown of each individual value-added action and tangible information an organization can build upon can be found.

Third-Party Process Mapping Facilitation

Another approach to consider when developing process maps for crucial organizational processes is the use of a third-party facilitator. While it may seem somewhat peculiar bringing in someone from outside the organization to fine-tune your processes, there are actually many benefits from bringing this outside perspective into the mix.

One of the biggest advantages is simply having an experienced facilitator on hand to keep the exercise organized, ruly, and on track. Developing a process map requires an organization to take a good long look in the mirror and face some potentially uncomfortable truths about the nature of their current process. Tempers can sometimes get high and blame can start to become assigned and tossed around as a result. 

However, your facilitator can act as a true impartial party, helping to keep the room under control and push to continue to keep everyone on track. An experienced outside perspective can also help move the process along by asking questions, offering suggestions, and driving the process through any stalls.

Ready to Work Your Process Map?

Ready to improve your processes to achieve better efficiency? The engineering team at Pearl Engineering believes in an efficient and methodical approach to every project we work with our clients on. Our team is experienced with process design, flows, and improvements. As a third-party consultant, we can offer an unbiased perspective and facilitation of your organization’s process mapping.  

Let us help you create or reevaluate your organization’s process maps to help identify the parts of your process holding you back as we begin working with you on your next project. After all, the best time to reevaluate your process map is during a large organizational change, and we can be there to help get you started on the right track.

Learn more about our experience with process mapping by contacting us or calling (715) 424-4008 today.