Process mapping—creating a diagram to help clarify a process or a series of parallel processes—is a familiar idea to most firms and companies, especially those involved in efforts such as Six Sigma or any quality management initiatives. Nancy Rauseo, instructor in the Marketing Department in the College of Business Administration, along with a colleague, took the concept, added new ideas, and applied it with great success at a large, South Florida construction company.
In addition to applied learning techniques—giving participants the chance to put into practice what they were learning—the researchers/trainers used cognitive mapping techniques. Cognitive maps enable people to, as one person at the company put it, “make the invisible visible.” An organizational chart, which creates a picture of the alignment of power and authority, is one form of a cognitive map.
“Our approach was to use cognitive mapping techniques to help align the business strategy to the process strategy,” Rauseo said.
The first new idea was that organizations using process maps usually map from the bottom up, with individual departments preparing charts of their functional activities.
“We involved top level executives and built the maps from the top down,” she said. “That gave the company a holistic view of its business and made it possible for everyone to visualize all the interrelationships among the separate departments.”
Another vital new idea: the approach was completely customer-focused.
“Rather than having the company and its departments look at ways to reduce expenses or otherwise improve the bottom line from an internal perspective, we had them use the maps to create a view of how customers interact with them,” she said. “By understanding these interactions, companies can make their business processes match customer expectations more effectively.”
Since companies have to define customer needs and evaluate how those needs are being met—or not—the method puts great focus on obtaining external input from those customers as well as input from the departments, about interactions.
“Customer observations are captured through ongoing market research, regular surveys, gathering of feedback by account managers, and a variety of informal methods,” Rauseo said. “By involving the customers more, companies can improve their processes and secure the loyalty of their customer base.”
In fact, that enhanced customer relationship translates into a major impact on the bottom line—perhaps more so than having each department look at its internal processes to try to isolate cost savers or revenue enhancers.
“It’s eight times more expensive to acquire a new customer than to retain one,” she said. “Companies taking this systematic customer focus enjoy a significant return on their investment because the method makes it easier to identity and implement changes that will be attractive to the customers they already have.”
Though Rauseo believes the method can be applied effectively at any company or firm, she admits that, like most initiatives, this one boils down to culture.
“In hierarchical organizations, the challenge is greater,” she said. “Companies with collaborative, cross-functional teams will have an easier job of going through the mapping process and implementing the changes.”
“Building an Enterprise Process View Using Cognitive Mapping,” by Rauseo and her colleague and published in the Business Process Management Journal, explains the research and applied learning techniques and includes a case study of the construction company’s experiences.