Using Process Mapping to Unclutter Complex Processes

By Laurie Fladd

I have this drawer in my kitchen that I try not to open in front of company. I assume every kitchen has one but I am not terribly proud of my ‘junk drawer’. I hate for people to see that despite my outward appearance of a clean, well-organized, and overall fabulous kitchen there are still some parts that are messy and disorganized. 

Surprisingly, my kitchen junk drawer reminds me in many ways of my iPASS journey. It can be difficult to create an organized experience while navigating some of our processes that are complex and messy. 

This was never as apparent as when we completed a process mapping exercise with our vendors about a year ago. We were talking about our onboarding process and had many representatives from across student services and various academic disciplines at the table. We were aware that onboarding included a complicated set of processes, so we expected our process map to appear complex as well. However, when we were done I think we were all a little surprised at just how complex (and indeed messy) our onboarding processes were at our college.

Uncovering Priorities

When we started to peel back the layers and really look closely at the onboarding process it became apparent that different parts of the process are driven by different departments and requirements, and the student experience is not always at the center. And while not a single person at that table ever actually intended to make a student’s life more difficult, I think we were collectively dismayed at the experience we were ultimately providing for our students. Not only were there many points of entry into the processes, but it was easy for students to stray off path, missing important milestones or just getting frustrated, giving up and dropping out completely. 

This was certainly not what we wanted for our students. After we were done, I took a picture of our ‘before’ process map and I put this picture in most presentations that I give. I am always a little hesitant to show it, as I worry that we will be harshly judged by others; in reality, our employees do an excellent job for our students. But the best part is, when I do show that slide in my presentations, I do not see judgment. Instead, I see smiles and nods of agreement. 

Sorting it All Out

And while I am not, under any circumstances, calling our onboarding processes junk, it does (in a way) bring me back to that junk drawer in my kitchen. You see, most people have one, don’t care to flaunt it, but would really like to make it better.  Our ‘after’ map looks more streamlined with fewer points of entry and key personnel to ‘catch’ and support our students who may stray off path. While I don’t think our onboarding process will ever be a singular straight path, we were able to use process mapping to take a good long honest look at our processes, put the student back at the center, and make improvements that can serve as a point of pride for everyone involved.

Laurie Fladd is Associate Dean Science and Mathematics at Trident Technical College.

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