“Shelley Sweet fulfilled every expectation desired and I would not hesitate to work with her again.”

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Superintendent of Schools (former)
Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District



Turning the Process Map into a Visual Analysis Map

By Shelley Sweet, I4 Process

What if you could create a visual that showed your data gathering, problem solving and analytical thinking analysis all in one place?  What if you could have a map which would enable you to talk to stakeholders and executives and get their input on problems, time delays, and key quality issues?  That’s what the Visual Analysis Map can do for you and your team.

Many of you have developed “As Is” process maps.  If you’ve built them with a team you’ve seen how the method helps employees see how their part impacts the whole process, begin to shift from blaming others to a process focus, and generates all kinds of improvement ideas.

What if we could take the map from this historical document to a whole new level of engagement, dialogue, and idea creation? That’s what I do next with the team when we create the Visual Analysis map.  I use a number of visual symbols and tools to display the analysis process. These symbols are:

  • Green dots with unhappy faces
  • Red dots with clocks
  • Orange post-its
  • Hot pink data boxes
  • A notched time line
  • Blue post-its


Begin with the green dots.  Tell the team to puts their dots on the large As Is map on the step or decision where they know a problem is – either because they have experienced it themselves or they know of concrete examples of problems. Beginning the analysis here allows employees to voice their own opinions right away and the can vent their frustrations with the process vs. each other.  This reinforces the move to a process focus vs. a people focus.

 Now stand back, look at the map, and have a discussion.  Where do the dots cluster?  What problems do they represent?  Is a problem later in the map caused by something that is missing earlier in the map?  Often the team will also suggest solutions for some green dots that are very simple and can be implemented immediately.  Do so!

Now use the red dots to indicate delays in the process and ask them to mark places where there see the biggest delay.

Again, sit back and analyze what the red dots can tell you.  Are they clustered with the green dots or in different areas?  What does the delay come from?  Which are the worst delays and how do you know? What data would it be useful to collect about some of these delay points (such as range of delay times, causes of the delays, or impact from the delays)?


Now I move to orange stickies.  I ask employees to write down specific quality problems that they see in the process, one quality problem per orange sticky and put it at the step or decision where it occurs.

 Now as you step back and analyze the map, question the team to identify areas where they need to do some root cause analysis using continuous improvement tools such as check sheets, Pareto Diagrams, and Five Whys.  Once this more detailed analysis is complete, the team can post their analysis sheets and conclusions on the Visual Analysis Map. 

The notched time line is put on the bottom of the map. This time line configuration is a standard tool of Lean and often used on the value stream map.  It shows the time each step takes and the time in between each step.  A notched time line is shown in the Sales Compensation Swim Lane map below.

Please click to enlarge

Value Stream Map with Time Line and Data Boxes

 Now you can easily see where the time wasting steps, decisions, and time between steps exist.  These are obvious improvement areas. This step complements the red dot step of delays, but gives you a bigger picture of the time line for the whole process.

Already you’ve probably recognized the need to gather more data for the analysis.  The data boxes will help visualize that.  Data boxes are another standard Lean tool. A data box usually contains space for 2-4 key pieces of information relative to a particular step.  Information that is frequently used in data boxes is process time, size of batch, % complete and accurate, and inventory or in basket items in the queue, but there are many more possibilities.  The map above shows data boxes.

See my article “The Secret Weapon that Lean Provides to BPM” for more discussion of data boxes and notched time lines.

I use data boxes in two ways – to determine where to collect data and to record the data we discover.   To determine where we need to collect data, I pass out one bright pink sticky and ask each team member to find a place on the map where they think it would be useful to collect some data. Later when the data is collected, record the actual data discovered by filling in actual numbers in the data boxes on the Visual Analysis Map.


Finally, use the blue square post-its.  We use blue stickies to designate the value adding steps.  Value add is another Lean term; a value added step is a step that the customer is willing to pay for. For each step that is a value added step, remove the original yellow sticky and replace it with a blue sticky with the same words written on it.  Often a process of 30-50 steps may only have 5 blue value added steps. The blue stickies focus our attention on the value added steps. The next challenge is obvious: how do we minimize of eliminate the non value added steps.

 The team has done significant analysis and it’s all up on the map.  The map has come alive! The map is now a Visual Analysis Map.  Now when the team displays the map in the work place or in a War Room, there is lots more to talk about to colleagues and stakeholders. Team members can

  • Bring other colleagues over and ask them to add green employee frustration dots to the map. 
  • Ask employees which quality problems they think are critical.
  • Get employees involved in collecting data or in doing some of the root cause analysis. 
  • Let employees comment on how the dots and stickies cluster in certain areas.
  • Bring in Senior Management and look at the Visual Analysis Map together.  Tell them about the data you collected, your analysis, and initial improvement ideas. Listen to their questions and ideas. 

Team working on a Visual Analysis Map.

 The Visual Analysis Map takes the process map to the next level.  It is distinctive because it

  • Allows others to see the thinking of the team
  • Is interactive, enabling discussion and insights within the team and with other stakeholders
  • Is one place where analytical information is summarized and  visible to all
  • Is the single place where information is integrated and can be viewed  across the whole process
  • Enhances understanding of the full process which leads to building better relationships and solutions

 As I work with teams and create the Visual Analysis Maps, I also ask them to come up with other ideas to make their work more visual.  Sometimes they go out and take pictures in the work environment and post them at critical steps with a short caption.  I am sure you will be able to find other visual cues that you can put on your map, which are relevant to your process and its analysis. Each will improve your communication, analysis and improvements.

 This article was published by the BPM Institute.