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Process Mapping: You Can’t Fix What You Can’t See

July 12, 2021

The symptoms of inefficient production are easy to spot.

  • Excessively long project timelines
  • Repeated mistakes
  • Missing information
  • Late-stage bottlenecks
  • Endless review cycles
  • And, perhaps the most painful, missed deadlines

Every one of these inefficiencies gives marketers serious headaches. But these are not root problems. They’re merely repercussions of larger upstream issues that are harder to identify.

Marketing leaders may use Band-Aids to alleviate symptoms temporarily—more resources, overtime, rush charges from vendors or yet another review cycle—but to fix the core issues, they must first examine their processes.

It’s a visual thing

The biggest obstacle to process improvement is that process is invisible and intangible. You know it’s there, but you can’t put your arms around it. Or take a picture of it. It’s invisible and multifaceted, involving a variety of stakeholders, power dynamics, cultures and ever-evolving technology. 

Processes can be complex and control how marketing teams operate on a daily basis. Without documenting process, it’s difficult to see or understand what’s going on. It should always be the first step before making any other operational changes such as tech investments, adding personnel or developing new roles. 

Charting the journey

Process mapping—a visual tool that shows every step of a workflow—is the best way to see and ultimately fix these core production issues. Dedicate time to this activity and make sure the right people are involved. Include stakeholders upstream and downstream from the focus area. This will expose hidden dependencies and misalignments. With all key groups represented, document each step in the process—who is doing the work, what is involved, how long it takes and what technology is being used.

The goal is to create a detailed breakdown of the operation to uncover pain points. Be sure to watch where productivity hits a snag, such as bottlenecks (compliance, review cycle), gaps in information (waiting for a brief or content), overlaps or redundancies (duplicative work), and loopbacks (rework).

When all steps and tasks are strung together in a visual map, marketers can see the gaps, opportunities and barriers. The process map is the baseline for improvement. Business leaders can now seek operational benefits, including: 

  • Reduced cycle time, handoffs, steps, re-dos and approval rounds
  • Increased first-pass yields (when information or tasks are “right the first time”)
  • Streamlined touchpoints, so the team has more time to work on essential business activities
  • Cleaner inputs and assets on the front end
  • Improved alignment on roles and responsibilities
  • New technologies that connect and make everyone’s job easier
  • Reduced risk and exposure
  • Increased agility and scalability for growth

Soft benefits of process mapping

Mapping marketing processes also has ‘soft’ benefits that contribute to continued process improvement:

  • Team members get a broader perspective of the operation, upstream and downstream from their work
  • Individuals realize their expectations of a step may be different from other stakeholders
  • Stakeholder and contributor misalignments or misunderstandings can sometimes be resolved immediately

Process mapping also uncovers hidden best practices that can be shared across teams. When all key stakeholders participate, they’re empowered to identify and fix problems. Their buy-in is critical and bolsters team morale. A process map that details who does what and when can also be an excellent training document for new employees and for cross-training.

Organizing for success

The most successful marketing teams appoint a dedicated project lead to focus on process visualization and the improvement journey. If a team lacks the skillset or capacity to take this on, an impartial third party like Quad’s Strategic Process Design team can guide an organization through the work. Outside experts will identify stakeholders, map the step-by-step process from the “doers” on the team, and even tackle the ugly parts—uncover what’s not working and provide a roadmap to fix the problems and optimize the operation.

Organizations willing to shine a bright light on their marketing operations by documenting each step will identify core problems and make way for changes that will help the team focus on what matters most—building brands, revenue and ROI.


Looking for hidden production inefficiencies in your operations? Contact Quad to learn how Strategic Process Design can help you uncover core problems and develop efficient solutions.