How We Did More with Less: The Value of Systems Mapping

Dec 05, 2018 10:57 AM by Aileron

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We’ve all been there—stuck.

We’re running fast, doing more, but not seeing the results. We’re making a lot of motion but seeing little progress. Sound familiar? It takes courage to step away from the rut and take a look at the whole system in question. But how do you take the first step? Recently, we sat down with Chuck Huggins (COO, Facilitator, and Leadership Coach) and Michaela Van Arsdale (Client Services Associate) and asked that pressing question we all feel at some point in our business: How do we do more with less?

Here’s what we learned.

What were things like five years ago?

Chuck: Five years ago, we had twenty-four employees delivering fifty events a year. We didn’t have any set processes or established practices. For example, five years ago we had no process in terms of delivering events, or to assign a business advisor to a client. There was so much labor involved in each event, we felt we were doing as much as we could.

Today, we have sixteen employees delivering over 200 events a year—and the big thing that allows us to do that is systems mapping. By mapping our systems and continually improving on delivering those systems, we’re able to visualize our areas of improvement and automate our processes. One of our first maps started out with about fifty steps, and now it’s down to around twenty.

Until we made our processes visible through systems mapping, it was hard to understand how we could be doing things better. But by examining our processes through systems mapping we were able to evaluate whether there was clear, attributed value in each step. When we did so, we realized that some steps didn’t have value, but were just what we had always done.

How did this look in practice?

Michaela: You have to look at your desired outcome, as well as the outcomes you hope to avoid. And then ask yourself for each step in the process, is this getting you closer to your desired outcome? If so, do it. If not, don’t do it. If you have to stop and ask yourself, ‘why does this feel so hard?’ It’s probably because there’s something broken in the system—the system isn’t visible and it’s not clear. Usually, something like delivering an event should be as simple as checking things off a checklist.

Chuck: Michaela actually system mapped her wedding!

Michaela: I did and it was kind of magical! It’s funny but it worked.

What if everyone doesn’t agree on a course of action?

Chuck: I think it’s hard to argue about the best way to move forward when it’s visible in this way.

Michaela: When you make it visible, it’s not just in your head anymore. And you realize that what makes sense in your head might not make sense to someone else.You do have to approach the conversation with humility—and to have insight into ways that your old ways of doing things can be improved. You either need a strong culture to have these courageous conversations, or you need to want one.

Chuck: And you need a champion to start these conversations. They’re not always comfortable. But they build your culture.

What are the barriers to achievement?

Chuck: The more lower-level processes become automated, the more your employees will need to perform at a higher level. If your employees don’t think they can perform at a higher level, or are unwilling to, they’ll resist efforts to change, even though that could free them up for other projects.

Michaela: Getting into the mindset that ‘this is the best that this will ever be done’ is a huge barrier. I aim for our processes to be so easy an intern could do them.

Do you have any advice for a company looking to start systems mapping?

Michaela: You don’t need to be perfect, or have it all figured out to start. And systems mapping isn’t about having the smallest amount of tasks, it’s about the efficiency of the work.

Chuck: Exactly! If you get hung up on eliminating steps, you might remove things that are necessary. You just want to get more done with less, to produce higher quality work.

Michaela: The goal is not to be so efficient that you don’t need your employees—it’s that the same employees can do higher level work elsewhere in the company.

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