As businesses slowly recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, they are adapting traditional lean management tools such as process mapping to the new normal of team members working from home.
The challenge is “how we can adapt the mapping process to a virtual setting while still holding true to a very robust process that we know works very well to drive collaboration in improving processes,” said John Drogosz, a coach with the Lean Product and Process Development (LPPD) group. LPPD members use process mapping in product development.
One adaptation is to have a facilitator at a physical site with a camera focused on the wall or whiteboard that will display a map of the process targeted for improvement. Using an online video phone connection, team members communicate process steps and other information to the facilitator, who puts them on the map using sticky notes. Panning and focusing the camera are challenges.
Based on his experiences, he offered real-world recommendations on how to run a virtual process mapping workshop that covered three phases:
Preparation: Be a Minimalist
“There are many mapping icons you could use but I suggest that you be a minimalist and stick to some of the very basic icons,” Drogosz said. “Keep it to no more than five. We want participants to think about and communicate the work they do, not worrying about icons.” Generally, square icons denote activities, triangles equal delays, and diamonds signify reviews or decisions.
Here are some other suggestions:
- Set up a virtual whiteboard using software available at your company.
- If you are mapping a product development process, mark a timeline along the top in weeks or days. Mark milestones or major activities on the timeline with diamond-shaped sticky note graphics. (This isn’t needed for mapping some transactional processes.)
- Set the project’s scope and goals with the sponsor or team leader. Cover the project’s start and stop points and make sure everyone understands what a value stream map is and how to use the software (1 hour).
- Invite the right people based on the scope. People who do the actual work in the process must be part of the mapping exercise. Don’t forget to invite suppliers and customers.
- Each participant writes virtual sticky notes to be added to the map. Notes indicate activities, milestones, workloads, reviews and approvals, and delays or bottlenecks (1-2 hours per person). “This way, the team members remember as much as they can about how the process works,” Drogosz said.
Workshop: Mind the Momentum
“The workshop is about a two-day process, but I wouldn’t spread it out over more than a week to maybe 10 days,” Drogosz advised. One virtual mapping a session a day or a session in the morning and one in the afternoon for two or three days, work best “because the information and conversations will be in people’s heads, and you can keep that momentum going.”
- Conduct a current-state “walk” (1.5 hours X 2 sessions). Bring the whole team together online to understand the process flow by arranging process steps on the map. Each team member “walks” through the process adding their virtual sticky notes, showing steps, activities, delays, etc., in their function’s horizontal swimlane. Watch the above video clip from the webinar to see John drawing a current-state map for an expense report process.
- Now that members have walked the process flow together as a team, have them review the map individually before the next online session. Their homework is to identify and record on virtual sticky notes all wastes, improvement opportunities, and best practices for standardization. (1 hour).
- “At your next session, ask each person to go through their sticky notes,” Drogosz said. If possible, the team can prioritize problems now or circle back at a later session.
Implementation: You Got Rhythm
“You’ve got people in the rhythm for doing the workshop, Drogosz said. “Keep that rhythm going” to quickly develop a future-state map of an improved process and a plan for implementing it.
- Create a future-state map (1.5 hours x 2 sessions) and its implementation plan with problem-solving A3s (1.5-hour x 2 sessions). Expect team members to need followup implementation and problem-solving coaching sessions (1 hour – weekly, 4 – 8 cycles).
- As you get close to whatever goals you set for yourself and your scope, conduct a reflection event with the team to review results and the mapping process (1 hour). Drogosz advises that you ask, “how did the process work for us; did we achieve what we thought we were going to achieve, and what can we improve?
And Keep in Mind …
- Several short sessions work better than a long one. “Two hours or less is about the maximum people can stay online and stay engaged, quite frankly,” said Drogosz.
- If the whiteboard software is new to some team members, run a tutorial during the preparation phase to show them how it works and what you expect them to do.
- Don’t open the workshops to spectators simply because it’s easy to do virtually. “Team members doing the mapping, may feel like they’re in a fishbowl and not make the waste bubble up as much as they would in a more closed environment. Make sure who you invite has something to contribute.”
- Keep engagement high by pausing after a mapping phase. “Have everybody turn their camera on and go around to discuss what you learned. That gets dialog going and creates a roundtable environment.”
- When people aren’t speaking, have them turn off their cameras and mics. “If you have too many people with their faces on at the same time, it starts looking like the Brady Bunch on the screen, and people get a little distracted.”
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