George Pesansky  |  10/29/2008

Process Mapping for Knowledge Transfer

This technique will help you do more with less

The challenge to increase productivity with fewer resources has lead to dozens of methodologies and toolkits to help organizations meet their objectives and become more profitable and effective.

One principle consistent with all those methodologies, and that makes enormous practical sense, is to leverage what you already know. This means harnessing the single greatest resource in any organization--the knowledge of its own people.

Many organizations have undertaken efforts to better manage knowledge resources. A landmark survey conducted by APQC in 1996 underscored the driving desire for structured knowledge management. Systematic best-practice transfer was the one strategy that all survey respondents pursued with their value-through-knowledge programs. These organizations wanted to answer the question, “How do we leverage the things that we already know and turn them into value?” Unfortunately, in many organizations, knowledge management and continuous improvement are still completely separate functions with little interaction and even less collaboration. Process mapping for knowledge transfer is a practical first step in demonstrating the fusion of continuous improvement tools with traditional knowledge management.

The critical factor

Having a method and the tools to identify, distill, transfer, and sustain the knowledge transfer are key elements to a successful program of this type. The critical factors to success are the ability to map the value stream where best practices may exist (identify), map the process where a best-demonstrated practice occurs (distill), and provide a process for adoption (transfer). The ability to visualize a process on paper--or in software--is a common thread in that success. So let’s consider the following specifics:

We perform value-stream mapping and high-level analysis of suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers (SIPOC) to discover best-demonstrated practices.

Process-map best-demonstrated practices and use success modes effects analysis (SMEA) and decision trees to prioritize and organize.

Use process execution road maps to adopt best-demonstrated practices.


Make it happen

The good news is that the very process of mapping and analysis increases the speed at which knowledge transfer can occur. The entire process demonstrates the principle of collaboration by blending the elements of two successful strategic tools--continuous improvement and knowledge management. With the right tools, distilling a best- demonstrated practice down to its essential ingredients of success can be accomplished in days, as opposed to weeks or months using traditional methods of visits, conference calls, and reports.

Using the right tools and having a clear method for the process compounds the benefits of mapping and analysis in three ways:

1. You transfer the root cause of success, not the “noise” of irrelevant data, from the best-demonstrated process that you mapped.

2. A facts-based approach helps recipients buy into the learning process. Stakeholders understand the why and how of the success by sharing the analysis and prioritization of the mapped process.

3. A short learning curve means that the transfer road map gives recipients the tools and methods for maximum, and almost immediate, productivity.


Seeing your success

The first step in successfully transferring best practices is finding them. Although many techniques for finding best practices will uncover pockets of excellence, only one or two techniques will systematically search each corner of your organization for the places of greatest excellence: value-stream mapping and SIPOC. The ability to visualize organizational processes as a big picture through value-stream mapping or a high-level SIPOC analysis is the tool that we’ll use for our “rescue” mission, as seen in the table in figure 1, below.

What are we going to rescue? The root causes of success that contribute to best-demonstrated practices. Which of these strength techniques will help us see the location of our success most effectively?


Best-demonstrated practices vs. best practices

What are the differences between a best-demonstrated practice and a best practice? Two major differences are critical:

1. Best-demonstrated practices are based on evidence (i.e., data) that represent the actual “best” performance for a process.

2. Best-demonstrated practices are part of an organized value stream or high-level SIPOC analysis. Their position and contribution to the big picture allow us to quantify the effect that they have in the overall process. More important, they allow us to quantify the cost of doing nothing differently. We do this by comparing the best performance with the actual performance of the knowledge recipients who would like to improve.


Without the context of the value-stream map or SIPOC analysis, comparing processes, finding excellence, and quantifying benefits are all impossible.

Mapping excellence

Continuous improvement methods have long established the principle that finding the root cause and focusing our continuous improvement attention on that will produce the quickest and most effective outcome. This basic principle is commonly overlooked when transferring knowledge. The common wisdom when sharing best practices or replicating projects is “more is better,” i.e., the more project and process data and exposure provided, the better the transfer of knowledge. In practice we know that this is rarely effective in continuous improvement. Therefore, as quality professionals, we must practice what we preach.

The paradigm of process problem solving starts with scope and measures--transitions to understanding the context of the problem. Then we must identify the root causes of the issue through data collection, testing, and analysis. Let’s apply the same paradigm to knowledge transfer.

The first step is to understand measures and scope. To accomplish this we create a SIPOC or high-level process map. This scoping and organizational tool will provide the infrastructure necessary to identify the root causes of why the process we’re studying is a best-demonstrated practice. Creating the map establishes the scope of the process that contributes to the result or best-demonstrated practice. We want to find the “birth” and “demise” of the transformational steps that create this excellence, dividing them into no more than nine steps. Inputs, outputs, suppliers, and customers will help us when we start to search for the root cause. This establishes a foundation for stakeholder analysis, metrics, and potential categories of inputs of root-cause influence.

Next, process-mapping the detail map as a “swim lane” of the process category in a SIPOC analysis is an easy transition technique to ensure that the scope and organization stay intact as we dive deeper into the process. Mapping no more than seven or nine additional steps per swim lane prevents disproportionate detail and allows us to map down into detail in a semi-controlled manner. A majority of the process maps I’ve created for this purpose stay at this first-pass level, providing sufficient detail for mapping and factor identification.

The third step is identifying factors and finding those that influence success. A fishbone diagram is the workhorse of problem solving, but here we use it to plow a different field. We want to discover the cause-and-effect relationships that create success, not the cause-and-effect relationships that cause defects or failures. This simple twist in brainstorming provides a new list of factors and items for prioritizing. Using SIPOC, our scoping and structure tool, as seen in figure 2, below, we can create a fishbone per swim lane to uncover many factors that may be influencing the overall success of each lane. This will provide us with a list of candidate causes for prioritizing and analyzing.

The final step in process mapping to find the root causes of success involves using a prioritization tool(s). As a long-time practitioner of problem solving, I always found the failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to be a powerful and efficient way to prioritize the potential root causes of failure. SMEA is an innovation in process mapping analysis that uses the power of the FMEA with a different focus, as seen in figure 3, below. Coupled with decision tree tools for analyzing the potential outcomes of decisions or choices made in the process, a thorough analysis and prioritization of the process is accomplished.

Making decisions

The individual decisions made in a SMEA are moments of truth in determining the direction and the degree of success in knowledge transfer. Selecting the most effective root causes requires technique and some data. A tool that’s particularly useful in complex, experience-emphasized processes is the decision tree. The ability to draw out a process map of choices and determine the frequency of occurrence by using probability analysis to follow each “leg” and, ultimately, the frequency of critical “legs” adds credibility and quality to our analysis.

Turn knowledge into action

If a process is mapped and analyzed but doesn’t produce a business benefit, was it successful?

To ensure that our efforts to identify best-demonstrated practices and distill the root causes of their success aren’t in vain, we must make this information usable. To do this requires a process map of sorts, a road map that points the user in the direction of how to implement and use the root causes we identified. A good transfer road map has a number of distinct sections:

Define. Define the steps needed to change the process. Elements commonly found here include operational definitions of the best-demonstrated practice, analyzing the cost of doing nothing differently, and a high-level process map for agreement in the general process.

Discover. Describe the steps to improve the processes based on the root causes of success used by others. The Pareto of Stochastic Petri Net (SPN) values and dependencies lay out the steps of the most important root causes of success, as well as the steps, tools, or documents needed to implement them.

Execute. Describe the steps to execute the plan to improve a process, addressing the need to change with the root causes that you think will most likely contribute to your success. Organized in a project plan or road map to gain commitment, buy-in, and milestones for results ensures that action will be taken and tracked toward the agreed-upon goals.


Process mapping works

The essential ingredient to knowledge transfer is effective process mapping tools and techniques. Perhaps one of the oldest or most easily overlooked tools in our toolbox, process mapping is an old dog, yet given a fresh new purpose, we can teach it new tricks and do more with less.


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George Pesansky