Tool: Conversion Mapping – Identifying Major Obstacles Upstream in a Process in Order to Avoid Downstream Headaches

Guy —

A couple of your recent (Blog) communications regarding Six Sigma and the (alternatives to ISD via ADDIE) CRAP and DIE models were really interesting. I’ve shared them with a couple of colleagues. Also got to thinking about another mapping convention we used frequently at Bandag that you might find interesting. I learned it from Andrew — probably one of those hinky OD process tools . . .

I’ve attached the job aid I put together when I watched Andrew facilitate one of these sessions for the first time. It’s really a slick process for identifying major obstacles upstream in a process in order to avoid downstream headaches. It’s called Conversion Mapping and while it doesn’t get down to the detailed task level that you might using a conventional swim-lane cross-functional mapping process, it’s much less tedious and more user friendly. To map a process using this approach will usually take a third of what it would take to map the same process using a cross-functional approach.

Click on the image below for a full size version of graphic to view and/or copy.

I’ve also found that it can identify the big blockages to deal with, and in some cases, the sub-processes where you DO need to do a swim-lane map.

The job aid is somewhat self explanatory — you just make passes through the process at various levels. First, identify all the process steps where something happens to convert an input into an output. (Surprisingly, this is usually a small number. I’ve never encountered more than 8 main steps.) Then, in the next pass, identify inputs and outputs of each major step — which are usually inputs for the next step. After doing that for all major steps, go back a third time and ask, “What can go wrong here that screws things up?” (A “variance.”) If it’s something that is likely to happen, log it. If it’s infrequent (20% or less of the time) ignore it.

After that, give everyone a break and re-arrange the map on the wall like the 2nd page of the job aid. (Obviously, the previous stuff was done with various sizes/colors of sticky notes — that old OD staple — if you hadn’t figured that out already.)

The second look at the map — now vertical — is to identify what additional problems each variance causes downstream. For example, in the job aid, you see a lot of X’s in the vertical path that looks like it might be related to Variance #11 (I didn’t actually number that far). If you resolve the first issue, it may eliminate a whole bunch of other problems downstream. You’re looking for the concentration of X’s in the verticals.

Sorry for the long winded explanation — this is a neat tool I had forgotten about and it can be really effective, especially if you have a time crunch. The other neat thing, is that it’s very easy to get your “clients” to take the marker out of your hand and work the process with your guidance.

Thought I’d pass it on for what it’s worth . . . Use as you see fit. Or not . . . .



From our next exchange where I had asked about “how to attribute” this process:

Andrew Hall is the person who taught it to me. I don’t know where he learned the process. He had it in his head — I documented it from watching him do it and participating a couple of times and have since done several sessions using the process. Not as rigorous as some methods, but a lot of bang for the buck.


Note: My search on the Internet only brought up data on IT conversions – and not an OD (Organizational Devellopment) tool/method.


Thanks John for passing this forward!!!

John and Andrew are former colleagues at Bandag, Inc., a client of mine during 1996-2002.

Above, Guitar John Swinney, whom I served with as a Board Director when he was first President-Elect (under Dale Brethower) and then as President of ISPI 2000-2001, is now at Wal-Mart University with the Talent Planning and Development Services team.

Andrew Hall is now at AlignOrg Solutions.

Thanks again to both of you for sharing!

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One comment on “Tool: Conversion Mapping – Identifying Major Obstacles Upstream in a Process in Order to Avoid Downstream Headaches

  1. Pingback: Conversion Mapping – Part 2 | EPPIC – Pursuing Performance

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