Except among the deeply process-minded fellows with whom I sometimes converse, the suggestion that process mapping is a valuable market analysis and planning tool meets with argument and outright dismissal more often than it does serious consideration. Often I’m accused of treating process improvement like a hammer and every business element and strategic avenue like a nail.
I would suppose there might be something to such an argument, except that I have made my career by carefully considering what the right tool or approach is to solve a problem. I argue that process is a much more prevalent condition than many folks realize or choose to acknowledge.
If nothing else, the opinion that process mapping is a useful tool for market strategy analysis and planning is not mine alone. To mention only one methodology that not only supposes process mapping is useful for marketing, the Outcome Driven Innovation method employs a highly structured form of process mapping to evaluate and analyze a market’s opportunities and threats and to identify the most significant needs a potential product or service must satisfy. It has proven that process mapping is a very important and useful tool for market analysis to many people and organizations that have utilized that methodology.
Rather than re-hash how Outcome Driven Innovation makes use of process mapping, let’s examine its application to the marketing function in more general terms. After all, that one methodology is not the only one to make good use of the tool and I’m a big fan of custom tailoring methodologies to meet our own needs anyway.
While there may be any number of internal processes that our personnel engage that could be optimized through process improvement practices, the application of process mapping as a marketing tool applies to processes outside of our business. We apply the tool to the behaviors and ways of doing things that people in our target market exhibit.
That is the biggest difference in application. We are not applying process mapping to our own processes, but rather to other people’s processes so we can see the opportunities to improve things for those people. If we can provide a better way for them to do what they do, we can expect our solution, either a product or a service or both, to be successful.
Likewise, the process map may also point to roadblocks or pitfalls that will hamper or prevent the success of our solution. Seeing those before we have even drafted or completely designed our solution is of great value.
Perhaps a quick hypothetical example will help to put such observations into context. Let’s imagine a service group that would like to change the equation in its market and out-perform and out-compete all others in the same service. In this case our business of focus will be a contracted consultant with a specialty for statistical process control and process capability (consultant).
The consultant recognizes that a significant source of its work comes from customer businesses that engage it to evaluate their data and provide analyses and recommendations concerning process capability of components. The components might come from the customers’ own processes, or they might come from manufacturers that supply to the consultant’s customer businesses.
The consultant sees an opportunity to simplify its work and better satisfy its customers. It happens to work in a niche within an industry and, as a result, much of the data it analyzes come from the same manufacturers and the same processes. However, because of non-disclosure agreements, it cannot share data with different customers. It ends up analyzing data from the same processes repeatedly.
The opportunity would be to be able to share data with customers and save them from spending money collecting data and measurement results that the consultant already knows but cannot share. Of course, the problem with that approach is that the consultant gets its money from conducting those analyses, even if they are repeats.
The consultant recognizes that if it could analyze process capabilities for commonly used manufacturers independent of customer contracts, it could potentially sell access to that data to many customers while only executing the tests periodically. It could conceivably satisfy customers and make money for much less effort.
It sounds like the beginning of a new service model, but how can the consultant explore the idea without actually doing it and putting the business at risk? The answer is to model it with a process map.
The consultant models the flow of information and work and money into and out of its business, to and from current customers. Then it recreates the map assuming the new model. Quickly the consultant sees that it can provide for customers’ needs much more rapidly and for less cost by already having data ready to share the instant that the data is needed. In terms of collecting revenue for that data, the model also improves. A subscription for access to the data produces revenue at predictable intervals instead of doing so as customers happen to need analyses. It smoothes out work demand spikes and cash flow at the same time.
Now, we can argue that this level of analysis may or may not be significantly aided by a process map. Let’s take the tool a little deeper into the market perspective, then. The consultant then maps out the process of selecting processes to analyze, requesting samples, for purchasing samples, and also for building and maintaining a database.
Suddenly, the consultant is discouraged. Without the database and the data to go into it, there is no subscription service to sell to customers. Without the revenue, there’s not enough capital to buy samples and conduct such a multitude of analyses. Also, how can the consultant possibly predict what manufacturers and processes might be of interest to customers in the immediate future?
Instead of giving up, the consultant instead continues to map out the interactions between customers and the suppliers of manufactured components. Maybe some other opportunity will come to light, or maybe something else will finally necessitate putting the idea aside altogether.
The process by which customers select samples and then request the analyses is mapped. The result is very interesting. The map shows that sale representatives for subcontractors and suppliers must somehow convince engineers to explore or choose their businesses and processes. Engineers must convince production personnel and supply chain purchasers to add new supplies to the business’ repertoire and to accept the supplier that they identify, even though the supply chain buyer has a process of fair competing every supplier selection. Finally, the quality function must examine, assess, and approve the supplier based on performance.
The whole process is a big push, not a pull, and it is a pure gamble for the sales representative that his effort will turn into work for his business and not just end up at a competitor after all. There is the opportunity the consultant was looking for. What if the consultant could somehow turn that push and that gamble into a pull process with a supplier able to truly compete on the merits of its actual performance?
The consultant decides that component suppliers might be willing to submit process samples and pay for the analyses if the results went into the consultant’s database. If so, customers could much more easily identify suppliers and processes they need or want to use, suppliers can more easily sell their performance because they have already proven it by an outside, independent source, and the consultant has a way to pay for the samples and measurements and analyses necessary for its solution.
I don’t know if the hypothetical example here is truly viable. It’s a fabrication inspired by a project I’m currently working. I don’t have a real example I’m authorized to share. However, I believe the hypothetical example provides a realistic description of how process mapping, the mapping of the interactions and flow of information and activity surrounding the various players in a particular market, can help an organization clearly and thoroughly explore opportunities, identify roadblocks, and ultimately design solutions for a particular market.
If you wish to experiment with the idea of process mapping market interactions, it isn’t especially difficult. You will need someone who is experienced with process mapping and a skilled facilitator to meet with the folks who best understand the market and the interactions including the people with the idea of a solution to be explored. The trick is to map out what everyone else does or would do, instead of focusing only on yourself and your own organization.
There is a truly important and powerful side affect of the process mapping effort. It rapidly identifies elements of the market and people’s behavior within the market that you don’t understand. As soon as someone says, “and then what happens,” and the answer is, “I don’t know,” you have an action item to go find out. By the time your process map is done, you will know more about your market than you imagined there was to know.
Give it some honest consideration. Process mapping is a very useful tool for the marketing function. Go a step further; give the practice a try. You will find that it is easier than you might have thought. If you do it with genuine intent, you will force yourself to lean more about your market. Chances are, your map will clearly point out the opportunities, roadblocks, and needs your solution must address to succeed.
Don’t dismiss an idea just because it comes from a production function instead of a marketing function. Look for ways to apply a very versatile analysis tool to your own challenges. It may turn into your favorite way to plan your next new product or service strategy.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com