A process flow diagram is used to visually capture processes and create a standard of operations for anything from manufacturing to marketing campaigns to workflows. Typically used in industrial settings, the concept has grown to be used in a variety of applications in order to document business processes, and therefore make them more efficient.
When it comes to processes, we tend to take them for granted. If you have ever had to put together a training module or operation guide, you understand. Here is a simple example to show how a process can work with and without a schematic such as a process flow diagram.
Doing Dishes as a Process
There is a sink of dishes. Your teenage son acts as though he has never hand washed dishes. Therefore, you create a process for him to follow to get them done. This is not too far off from managing staff to follow specific protocol, agreed? We must simplify things, not because our staff are unintelligent, but because when it is easy to understand and we do our best to communicate well, we have a greater chance of success.
Sadly, most processes are assumed and/or inefficient. By creating a process flow diagram and really digging into the steps, that’s when we discover why we have output errors, productivity stalls, and redundancies. In lean management, these are considered waste and only by discovering the root cause of them can they be corrected with long lasting results (as opposed to a quick bandage type fix).
Back to the teenager with dishes…
Situation: A sink full of dishes.
Desired outcome: Dishes are clean, dry, and put away in their correct places by 5pm daily.
Known gaps between situation and desired outcome: In the past, dishes feel greasy at times; dishes haven’t been put away in the correct areas; it takes too long to remedy full sink of dishes.
In our example, we are going to list the current steps, plus, in parenthesis, expand each with a question to get to better communication.
When sink is full (What does full mean?), or by 4pm Sunday through Thursday:
- Stack dirty dishes on the counter beside the sink basins. (Is there a way to stack to prevent breakage? Is there a specific area of the counter to use or not use?)
- Fill one sink basin with hot, soapy water (How hot to get them clean and also keep teenager from burning himself? How much soap should be used?)
- Fill the other sink with cool, clean water (How cool? When is the water not clean and need to be replaced?)
- Using a scrubber sponge, take each dirty item and clean every surface. (What tools should be used to clean hard to reach areas? Is there scrubbing involved? How long should he spend on each item?)
- Place the cleaned item into the cool water basin. Feel the item to check for remaining, stuck on debris and grease. If present, clean again with hot, soapy water. If not, place item in the drying rack.
- Continue to wash each item, do quality check, rinse and set on drying rack until sink is empty.
- Drain water from basins. Rinse the sinks so there is no remaining debris.
- Dry countertop of any water.
- Using a fresh towel, take each item and dry it and return it to its proper area. (Where are towels located? Where do they go when done? Is there a schematic for where dishes go that is easy to understand so items can be put away correctly?)
In this example, you may think that the questions in parenthesis are like playing devil’s advocate, and in some ways they are. Consider how differing results there could be (inconsistency), when these items aren’t clearly defined with a process flow diagram? This is particularly true when more than one employee is responsible for a task or set of tasks.
Additional Benefits to a Process Flow Diagram
Do you see also how the questions bring up the need for equipment? How about time spent? Quality and inventory control? Safety management? Do you see how it establishes expectations and uniformity? Can you see that some steps will create a sub-process that further communicates expectations and protocol? When it comes creating a consistent outcome, a process flow diagram process (and business process management) are the key.
PBEX, LLC provides a complete review and analysis of the business processes that create efficiency and profitability, and the barriers to them. Contact us today to learn more about lean business management and to schedule your review with a process improvement expert.