How to SUPERCHARGE your problem solving – Part 2

In the first article in this series, I said that the primary thing that needs to be done to get you on the right track to solving a problem is to clearly define the problem.

I went on to suggest that the first stage in doing this should be to Go-Look-See-Ask – go where the problem is happening, look at the process, see what is happening, and ask questions to fully understand.

So, you’ve done that. And what should you do next?

The next big thing I would recommend you do to clearly define your problem is to map out the process.

Process mapping allows you to have a clear, visual picture of the process.

Process maps remove ambiguity and confusion about what happens and how things link together.

Importantly, the act of producing a process map also stimulates conversations between people in the team that deepen and enrich everyone’s understanding.

This is crucial because a huge part of the difficulty with defining a problem is perspective.

You could have ten people in a room, who are all experts in their part of the process, but maybe they don’t really understand how it fits together.

Or how certain parts or tasks or departments interact with each other.

Sometimes people just don’t understand other people’s point of view, because they have never seen it.

By working together to map it out in detail, everyone in the room can see how the process works, how information and materials flows, and where in the process the problem is occurring.

That last bit is really crucial.

Where in the process the problem is occurring.

By drawing up a visual picture of the process and identifying exactly where the problem is, you can clarify and define exactly what is going on.

This will often lead to lots of ‘a-ha’ moments as people start to understand the reality of the situation.

So, to help you do this in the most effective way, here are my top ten tips for making your process mapping quicker and more effective, to supercharge your problem solving:

Tip 1 – Have a diverse team (plus one extra)

An ideal team is between 5 and 9 people. Less than that and you likely won’t have enough knowledge in the room, more than that and it will be difficult to control and manage.

Importantly, try and have a diverse team – people from each department involved with or affected by the problem. If possible, also try to have one person in the room who is not directly involved. They can bring a valuable fresh pair of eyes to the room, and will often ask the questions that really help clarify the situation.

Tip 2 – Do this on a wall

The simplest way to process map is to get the team around a wall (or a flipchart).

Don’t try and do this on a computer.


Technology is a wonderful thing, but in some situations, it can block peoples creativity and prevent them from engaging.

When people can touch and feel and play with the steps in the map, moving them around easily and refining the detail, quickly adding some extra information, or updating the words or links, then they are truly engaged.

Tip 3 – Stand up

Have the team standing up in front of the wall.

I am a huge fan of stand-up meetings as they encourage everyone in the room to participate and keep the energy up.

No-one can sit in the corner and have a rest (we all know someone who does that) and it also means there is not just one person stood at the front doing the work whilst people sit back and shout things out.

With everyone working together to build, and then refine, the map will develop quickly and accurately.

Tip 4 – Square Sticky Notes

Use square sticky notes for each step of the process.

Don’t draw directly onto paper or onto a whiteboard – doing it that way makes it far harder to modify and refine the map. Sticky notes allow you to quickly and easily move things around.

I recommend using square notes as you can then turn them through 45° to show a decision point. Genius.

Tip 5 – Thick Black Pen

Use thick black markers to write on the sticky notes.

The thicker pen forces you to be concise with what you write on the note, and also means it can be clearly read from across the room.

This sounds silly, but it will save you loads of time trying to interpret the twelve sentences someone has crammed onto a sticky note in biro.

Tip 6 – Map Reality

Map what the process really is.

What really happens.

Not what the procedure says.

By all means, compare the map to the procedure afterward, and identify any points where the procedure is not followed. This can help you find shortcuts and workarounds that could possibly be part of the problem.

Tip 7 – Annotate additional detail

If questions or concerns are raised about particular parts of the process then highlight them using red pen on a sticky note.

Don’t dwell on it as you want to get the map constructed in reasonable time.

If the conversation focuses too much on a part of the process that does not work well, then the energy and enthusiasm of the team may be lost. Make a short comment on a sticky note and place it at the appropriate point, and then move on.

Tip 8 – Let people vent, then move on

Occasionally people will start to rant – perhaps about a particular department, or their opinion why something does not work, or how it was great in the good old days.

Or perhaps about how this is a waste of time because they definitely know what the solution is.

Sometimes it helps people to get things off their chest. Listen, smile, thank them, make a note of anything possibly relevant (in red pen with a question mark) and then move on swiftly.

Let them vent but don’t let them drag on. 

Tip 9 – Tidy it up

Very often, the map you build first time with the team is a little messy or difficult to follow.

It is usually a good idea to tidy it up and make sure it is clear and easy to interpret. This is a bit of extra work for the facilitator, but it is well worth it in the long run if you can make the map organised and easier to follow.

Tip 10 – Take photos

Take photos of the map at each stage.

This is helpful in case for any reason it gets damaged or any of the sticky notes get dislodged. It’s also useful for the team involved to have a copy they can review in their own time.

The app ‘CamScanner’ is great for this – you take a photo, quickly crop the section you want and the app converts the image to a PDF, which you can email straightaway to everyone in the room. PDFs are also far smaller files and so don’t clog up everyone’s inbox.

I hope these tips are useful, and that they help you to use Process Mapping to define your problems upfront, so that you can then get on and solve them.

Do you have any useful tips to make it easier?

Let me know in the comments.

How to SUPERCHARGE your problem solving – Part 2

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