Using Process Mapping to Unclutter Complex Processes

photo of junk in a drawer with blog title overlaid on it

I have this drawer in my kitchen that I try not to open in front of company. I assume every kitchen has one, but I am not terribly proud of my ‘junk’ drawer. I hate for people to see that despite the outward appearance of a clean, well-organized, and overall fabulous kitchen, there are still some parts that are messy and disorganized.

Surprisingly, my kitchen junk drawer reminds me in many ways of my iPASS journey. It can be difficult to create an organized experience while navigating some of our processes that are complex and messy.

This was never more apparent than when we completed a process mapping exercise with our vendors about a year ago. We were talking about our onboarding process, and had many representatives from across student services and various academic disciplines at the table. Now, we were aware that onboarding included a complicated set of processes — so we expected our process map to appear complex as well. However, when we were done, I think we were all a little surprised at just how complex and indeed messy our onboarding processes were at our college.

Uncovering Priorities

When we started to peel back the layers and really look closely at the onboarding process, it became apparent that parts of it are driven by different departments, and the student experience wasn’t always at the center. While not a single person at that table ever intended to make a student’s life more difficult, I think we were collectively dismayed at the experience we were ultimately providing for our students. Not only were there many points of entry into the processes, but it was easy for students to stray off the path, missing important milestones or just getting frustrated, leading them to either give up or drop out completely.

This was certainly not what we wanted for our students. After we were done, I took a picture of that process map and I include it in most presentations that I give. I am always a little hesitant to show it, as I worry that we will be harshly judged by others; in reality, our employees do an excellent job for our students. The best part of sharing this? When I do show that slide in my presentations, I do not see judgment in the audience. Instead, I see smiles and nods of agreement.

Sorting It All Out

And while I am not, under any circumstances, calling our onboarding processes ‘junk,’ it does (in a way) bring me back to that junk drawer in my kitchen. You see, most people have one and don’t care to flaunt it, but they would really like to make it better. Using process mapping allows institutions to take a good, long honest look at their processes, finding ways to put the student back at the center, and make improvements that can serve as a point of pride for everyone involved.


Laurie Fladd is Associate Dean of Science and Mathematics at Trident Technical College.