Many people believe that to have a great product, you must achieve simplicity. But, what does that even mean? Simplicity is most commonly associated with the design of the product, but it goes beyond that.
As Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Reaching simplicity to the point where your product’s use becomes intuitive is not easy.
Even the simplest of products can contain complexity. The best product managers know how much work goes into making a product simple and how hard it can be to delve into a single, minute detail while simultaneously stepping back to see the much larger picture a real customer would see. One tool that can often help with this is process mapping.
Table of contents
- What is process mapping
- Symbols in process mapping
- Best tools for process mapping
- Benefits to process mapping
- When should you use process mapping as a product manager?
What is process mapping?
Process mapping is when you draw out the inputs, outputs, actors, and steps in a process. It creates a visual representation of an activity that happens in a business — much like a map is a visual representation of an area or place.
A process map can be a great tool for planning or managing the activities in a specific business process. It can also help you gain an understanding into what currently happens in that process and identify the areas of improvement.
Symbols in process mapping
There is a standard language to process mapping called Unified Modeling Language, or UML. It is an international uniform standard that makes it easier to understand process maps.
However, the term language is used very lightly. Don’t let it discourage you. Unlike other computer languages, it’s not necessary to learn UML to create process maps. Most process mapping programs and software tools have drag-and-drop shapes.
What is important is that you are consistent with the shapes you use so that the people reading can fully understand the map.
Below is an example of a process map that includes a few UML symbols:
Best tools for process mapping
There are loads of tools on the market for process mapping, but also lots of simple ones built into software that you use day-to-day. For example, the process map above I created in a Google Doc.
Lucid chart is a more specialized tool, but you can also use Miro. I wouldn’t recommend using a paper and pen, or even a whiteboard, because they are easy to lose and easy to forget.
It is imperative that if you are working in a team, you create a digital version that can be accessed by everyone. Having it digitally accessible also makes it harder to lose and easier to change as time moves on.
Benefits to process mapping
There are many benefits to process mapping, depending on the purpose for creating the map.
For product managers, process mapping:
- Creates a visual representation
- Fosters a shared understanding
- Discourages single perspective thinking
1. Creates a visual representation
This could be a process that sits within the realm of your product. For example, your sales process where there may be in-person conversations as part of the journey for the customer to purchase your product.
Whatever it is, mapping it out is a visual representation that is easier to understand. The more complex the area is, the more benefit you get from creating this form of representation. These processes can be as broad or as detailed as it needs to be.
2. Fosters a shared understanding
Often, if you’ve decided a process map is useful to you, then you have a complex area to your product. This can be difficult to explain to your team in all the ways that it is relevant to them.
By building a process map together, with developers, designers and other colleagues, you create a mutual, shared understanding. The act of this co-creation can also foster new ideas and help make links between different areas that were not possible before.
3. Discourages single perspective thinking
As a product manager, you will have a unique perspective on the product because you probably have the most knowledge about it. By mapping out a process and including the actors, the people who perform each activity, you can help develop your understanding of how others see the product.
You can even go one step further and add quantitative and qualitative data to the steps, making it even more comparable to a customer journey map. This can help identify opportunities and problems that need to be addressed.
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When should you use process mapping as a product manager?
The best time to use process mapping is when you’re looking to understand the problem you are facing: during the discovery phase.
Ideally, you have a hypothesis about a problem and you’ve defined what success looks like. Your next step is to confirm the problem exists. Whether you use continuous discovery, as advocated by Teresa Torres, or you approach your problems on a project basis, creating a process map can support this stage of the product development.
The discovery phase is about understanding the next best problem to solve, testing the best ways of solving it, and creating a mutual understanding between you and your teammates by including them in these developments.
Process mapping is a way of drawing out a process by identifying all the inputs, outputs, actors and steps. For product managers, the main benefits lie in the process, no pun intended, of creating the visual map and the direct understanding that comes right with it.
When your goal is to create something simple, looking at all the complexities and designing them away from the customer experiences is a hard task. Next time, try process mapping as a tool to help you design amazing, yet simple, products.
Featured image source: IconScout
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