Digital Magazine

Mapping the Process

There is an old joke that says if you want to hide something from management, place it in the company quality manual — they never look there! There may be an element of truth in this when you think about the training conducted on the various quality improvement tools and then see how infrequently they are used.

An example of a little-used but powerful tool is flow charting or process mapping. It looks like a simple procedure until you actually try to use it. If done well this tool can be very powerful in defining the current state of operations and can then serve as a road map for isolating and eliminating problem areas.

There are many software programs available to assist in generating flowcharts. However, the most important part is to have a well-considered plan. Here are some steps and tips that have served this author well over the years, enabling many improvements to be made.

  1. Make sure you have a defined purpose and explain it to those participating.
  2. Establish the boundaries of the process, i.e., where it begins and ends. One common mistake is to make the boundaries too wide, so that complexity overwhelms the exercise.
  3. Within these boundaries, break the process into a few major steps and create a macro flow chart as seen here. Typically, major steps are represented by departments within the operation.
  4. For each of the macro steps, consult with those involved in this step and produce a micro flow chart linking individual activities. One way to prompt understanding is to collect all the paperwork, official and unofficial, within the step. This provides insight on how the work is actually done.

Each step is adding value to the product being converted. There are, or should be, measures and data recorded for handing off from one step to the next.

Each major step or department should view the next as a customer with quality requirements for incoming work. This schematic is idealized, and in the real world, the value-adding flow is not totally linear. But many loops indicate rework due to a problem in a prior step and an opportunity to eliminate waste of time and material.


  1. Using the process map provides a base line for changes to make improvements.
  2. Use it to redraw the work flow to incorporate improvements.
  3. Use it as a teaching tool for how work is performed.
  4. Place it in quality manual as an official record of standard ISO procedures.

Next month this column will offer some ideas on how to make changes to improve critical performance measures in converting operations.

David Argent has 30+ years of experience in the converting industry. He specializes in process analysis and improvement with particular emphasis on ink and coating design and performance. Contact him at 636/391-8180; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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