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Charting Your Course: Process Mapping as a Visualization Tool

Data visualization is an essential tool for effective communication. Process maps are a different kind of data visualization tool that is unfamiliar to many businesses professionals. While numerical data points are often used to visualize data, process mapping can better capture a set of activities. In this article, we will explore what process mapping is, why it is useful, and how to use it effectively.


Process map visual of application process simplified

PROCESSES VS PROJECTS

Before delving into process mapping, it is important to first differentiate between processes and projects.


Processes involve continuous iterations that create the same product or service repeatedly, while projects are temporary endeavors with a defined beginning and end.

For example, starting a volunteer program is a project, but instituting the processes that maintain it moving forward is a process.


BENEFITS OF PROCESS MAPS

There are many benefits to using process maps. First, they provide a way to view process from different levels of detail, or granularity. Process maps provide a holistic view of an entire process, allowing stakeholders to see everyone involved and ensuring that no one is left out. The level of detail can range from a broad overview of a process to a specific focus on one aspect or part. For example, in exploring "lost patient belongings", a process map could be used to identify all the departments that come into contact with an item, or the process map could drill down to one department's handling of an item.


Another benefit of process maps is their ability to identify challenges and bottlenecks. By having a clear business question in mind before creating a process map, you can easily pinpoint areas that require improvement. For example, if you are trying to identify the bottleneck in the onboarding process, a process map can help with root cause analysis. Similarly, if you are exploring the time between application and orientation for a volunteer, a process map can reveal bottlenecks that need to be addressed.


Finally, process maps are simple to understand, making them an effective tool for communicating complex concepts.


Woman referring to a PDCA quality chart

REASONS TO USE A PROCESS MAPPING AS A VISUALIZATION TOOL

The best visualization tool is the one most suited for you purpose, audience, and your data. Most visualization tools are primarily suitable for reporting statistical data points, but process maps are the perfect tool for graphically representing a process, and here why you would want to do so:

  • To document a process

  • To perform process analysis

  • To perform root cause analysis

  • To maintain consistency in procedures of a process

  • To maintain regulatory standards

  • To engage stakeholders

  • To inform decision making

  • To clearly identify roles and responsibilities

  • To identify business questions

Related: 7 Data Visualization Tools for Your Storytelling Toolbox

PROCESS MAP HOW-TO ESSENTIALS

Process mapping is simple and involves using common shapes to represent different points in a process. While more detailed symbols can be used, the four shapes introduced in this article are sufficient for most process mapping needs.


A chart of four basic process mapping symbols

There are many tools available that make process mapping easy, some of which are free or low-cost.


Popular options include:


While Lucidchart is my personal favorite due to its drag-and-drop interface and quick snap-to-grid technology, PowerPoint is also a functional option that can be used to create effective process maps.



SCENARIO CASE STUDY

Disclaimer: Information in this scenario is based on personal opinion and experience. Scenario content is for illustrative purposes only and in no way is to be considered reportable research.


As a leader, you have observed that onboarding process for new volunteers slows down during the staff-initiated reference checks. Observation has led you to suspect that you may be losing potential volunteers as a result. Since the onboarding process is a set of activities, you set out to investigate it. Using a business analysis approach, you begin by first conducting a process analysis. The first step in a process analysis is to use process mapping as a visualization tool,


Related: Business Analysis: An Approachable Framework for Healthcare Experience
Process map of the full application process across swimlanes

In reviewing the initial process map with other members of the team responsible for onboarding, you are able to clearly identify a bottleneck in the reference process. While initiated by staff, the process is unable to move forward until the documents are received from community members. Sometimes, staff have to go back to the applicant and get new reference contact information due to no response. This further delays the process.


A pilot program is put into place that encourages applicants to submit completed references when they submit their application.


A refined process map of the application process with only the interview part highlighted

You create a second process map that is created with limited detail to draw attention only the part of the process being tested.


This process map is used as the basis to test your business question: "Do applicants who submit their reference with their application have a higher rate of onboarding completion than those who do not?"


You pilot the process change for the next six months to ensure you have an adequate sample size.


At the end of six months, you analyze your findings. You create a process map data visualization to share the results of the process change.

An example of using process mapping as a visualization tool


Process mapping is a valuable tool for healthcare leaders and business professionals to have in their data visualization toolbox. It helps to communicate complex concepts, identify bottlenecks and challenges, and improve processes for better outcomes. By applying simple process mapping elements, you can create a visualization that is effective, informative, and easy to understand.


 
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Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy and the human experience in healthcare. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.

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