A manager I recently spoke to who came into FE from the automotive industry explained the horror she felt when realising that not only did her College not have process maps but in many cases were not even sure what their processes were! “We’re an educational establishment” her colleagues said, “we don’t need all that sort of stuff here!”
Now it has to be recognised that the ISO 9001 environment in which motor vehicles are constructed has to be millimetre perfect, but are we really saying that in a college in which an individuals’s education and training and their whole future is being developed is less important than building your average family hatchback? I think not!
I think it would be a brave (or foolish) CEO who would claim that all of their processes are as efficient as they could be. The truth is that every college would benefit from some form of process mapping. But it is not sufficient to commission a one-off exercise to draw up maps as these will soon be out of date and outdated maps are not only of no use they can be positively dangerous. Show Ofsted a process map and then hear a manager say “oh we don’t do it like that now” and you might as well start finding out what “Inadequate” really means. However, show them maps which everyone stands behind and it could be the sweet smell of “Outstanding”.
It is a fact of life that change will happen. In colleges people leave, people join and processes change. To be of maximum benefit any maps created must be refreshed and updated on a regular basis. Indeed what is required is a process to ensure that process maps are reviewed and updated! If this does not happen the result is that over time the actual process moves away from the documented process shown in the map. Those involved begin to amend the agreed process and invariably they change what they do to suit their own needs and not the needs of the College. In this situation those involved lower down the organisation structure experience significant stress as what they are expected to do constantly changes and the process becomes gradually less effective. Such changes are almost never efficient and almost always add cost.
Whilst process maps can provide benefits to all colleges, at all levels, the mapping exercise is particularly relevant and powerful in a merger environment. The most successful mergers are those in which systems and procedures are harmonised at an early stage following the merger. Harmonisation is much easier when there is a visible representation of the various College’s processes. The mapping process is also a wonderful opportunity to get the staff from all partner Colleges together, working as one to shape the future! New, improved processes can be developed and mapped which combine the best features of all partner Colleges.
So how should process maps be created? It has always been true that those who actually do the work are the ones who know best how things are done. The answer therefore is to organise workshops with these people leading the development of the maps. In our experience these workshops are the best way to identify not only how things are done but where they are done badly, giving the ideal opportunity to make beneficial changes. What’s the effect of this exercise on the people who undertake the work? The answer is, in our experience they love it! It provides them with an outlet to say where they think things could be improved. The workshops prove to be very cathartic! Because they are involved in designing the way forward the staff who are involved feel a great sense of achievement and more importantly ownership.
However, a final word of caution, it is best to run these workshops without managers present to allow staff maximum opportunity, unfettered to express their views.
So to answer my opening question, can a college operate efficiently without process mapping, I would say not!
Malcolm Cooper, MD, MCA Cooper Associates