Conversion Mapping – Part 2

What It Is

Conversion Mapping a slick process for identifying major obstacles upstream in a process in order to avoid downstream headaches.

While it doesn’t get down to the detailed task level that you might get to 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 the time that it would take to map the same process using a cross-functional approach.

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.

Part 1

A Post from October 5, 2007 – here.

Colleague Chester Stevenson (his Blog is here) read that and had some questions – see below for the email exchange between he and I and John Swinney.

Part 2

Note the 3 jobs aids…

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map

Conversion mapping is a tool for quickly identifying disconnects within a business process. The
purpose of the tool is to identify variance within the process that, if eliminated, will have the most
potential for improving quality, reducing time or cost, etc.

Conversion mapping is a facilitated group process. The group should consist of people who
actually do the work and know what actually happens during each step (which may or may not be
what is supposed to happen according to procedure manual). It may or may not be appropriate to
have supervisors in attendance. If they choose to attend, they must agree to observe rather than
participate. If there is any opportunity for supervisors to be intimidating or to have a tendency to
jump in with what is “supposed to happen,” they should not be part of the meeting.

How it works:
1. Define the starting point and ending point based on the critical business issue.
Identify a discrete process with a clear beginning and end.

 Process name: Order fulfillment
 Starting point: “Order received”
 Ending point: Order prepared for shipping.”

Note: there can be a tendency to include too much in the initial process definition. For the
above example, we might define “customer receives order” as the end point, but that would
actually include two separate processes. Once an order is ready, shipping it to the customer is
a separate discrete process (usually involving a different work group).

2. Identify the “big block” process steps.
Identify all the process steps where something happens to convert an input into an output.
(This is usually a small number of steps. I’ve never encountered more than 8 main steps.)

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map_Page_1

Write each process step on an 8 ½ by 11 piece of paper (large sticky-back paper is ideal)
and tape to the wall in sequence

Make sure you have consensus that these are all the steps that make up the process. (It is
at this point that you may sometimes discover you don’t have all of the necessary people in
the room. You need at least one person who can speak to what happens during each
process step.)

3. Identify inputs and outputs for each process step.
Starting back at the first step of the process, identify inputs that are then converted into
outputs by that step of the process.

Note that the outputs of each step may become inputs for the next step.

Write these on large sticky notes, and place each variance in appropriate relationship to the

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map_Page_2

4. Identify variances for inputs and outputs
Use a smaller (or different color) sticky note for each variance.
A “variance” is any item outside of the normal procedure which can interfere with the
completion of the step.

A variance could be:

 Delay
 Incorrect data (e.g., wrong product number)
 Damage or quality issue
 Etc.

The variance should be realistic. It is usually not effective to include a variance that rarely
occurs during a normal process cycle

Variances are usually identified by asking the question, “What can go wrong here?”

Avoid assigning “blame” with a variance. After mapping is completed, owners of solutions
can be identified and tasked to determine best ways to eliminate or minimize each variance.

It is usually best to number variances sequentially rather than starting with a new #1 for
each process step.

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map_Page_2a

5. Re-align the map and create a variance matrix for a Downstream Impact Analysis.”
After variances are identified, allow the group to take a break and realign the process steps,
inputs and outputs from the map in a vertical format similar to below.

Add each variance in a stepped matrix to the right of the first process step where it can

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map_Page_3

6. Review each variance to determine potential impact.
Identify each additional downstream step (or input or output) where the variance would
cause an additional problem (waste, rework, delay, etc.)

Analysis: When potential impact has been identified, look for vertical patterns to prioritize
the most significant opportunities. In the example below, variance # 2 may impact 6
additional areas.

Steps for Completing a Conversion Map_Page_3a

The above analysis allows identification of critical pinch points that, if eliminated, may have
significant impact on improving a specific process. Often, solutions appear obvious to “owners” of
the process. Or, it may be appropriate to ask specific team members to look at potential
alternatives for implementing solutions.

In previous applications, the entire process was usually completed in less than a day and many solutions were obvious at the end of step 6. In more formal settings, some groups have elected to bring in the management team to present their findings and help determine solutions.

How This Part 2 Got Started

Emails from December 18th through December 20th 2012…

Guy, I don’t quite understand how to do the Downstream Impact Analysis (page 2). Could you do a post on this? I understand how you got the conversion map. I understand how you came up with each variance. I do not understand how/why/when you put an “x” under each variance column.

Best Regards,
Chester Stevenson


Hi Chester!

This is not my tool – or my example – so I would be making up an answer.

However – if you’d like to connect with John Swinney who shared this with me – I’d be happy to link you two together. In fact…

John – what sayest thou?



Chester and Guy – I believe I still have a job aid on my home computer that walks you through the process step by step.  I’ll look for it tonight and forward a copy to you.  If by some reason I can’t  find it, I should be able to recreate it without too much difficulty.  I’ll try to get back to you this evening or tomorrow.

John M. Swinney, CPT, Instructional Designer 


Guy and Chester – here is a quick explanation for using the conversion mapping process in the PDF. I’ve also attached a couple of MS Word documents that contain the original diagrams.

There is one difference I’ve noted in the vertical alignment map.  The diagram on your blog [here] for vertical alignment in step five is more effective if the inputs and outputs are both to the right of the step they impact.  That makes it easier to align the variance with the input or output it affects.

I hope the attached helps.  Actually, it’s a lot easier to demonstrate than it is to explain.  On more than one occasion as I was facilitating a session like this, some of the precipitants would grab a marker and take over the mapping process.

If you have any questions or some of this doesn’t make sense, feel free give me a call or e-mail.


Okay, I think I understand, but I’d like to paraphrase to make sure. When you are doing the Impact Analysis, the Variance is aligned to the right of the input/output where they originally occur. An “X” is then placed next to each additional Input/Output where the variance re-occurs.

I’ve attached a table where I created a variation off of what you sent just to make sure I understand. In this situation I’m saying Variance 1 and Variance 2 occur during Input 1. I’m also indicating that Output 1 has no variance, while Variance 2 and 4 have no repeat occurrence. Is this the correct way to record this?

Thanks for your help!
– Chester


That’s correct, Chester.

I’ve had pretty good results using this process in the past.  What has been surprising to me (as well as those who were involved in the process) was how a seemingly minor issue early in the process had significant impact downstream.  Small changes early resulted in a much more streamlined work flow later.

One of the interesting things I noted about the process was that internal clients quickly assumed ownership.  A group I worked with at my former company went through it once with me facilitating, and then adapted it to a couple of additional processes on their own.

Like Guy, I have tried to research the origins of this model and have not been able to find anything.  The person I learned it from (Andrew Hall, an internal OD consultant with the LDS church) was also unfamiliar with its origins.  We’re wondering if some sharp OD person came up with it as a way to help a client and it spread to a few others after that.



Thank you for the feedback John. I can see how this tool would be helpful as a visual reference for stakeholders to see variance relationships between inputs and outputs and make more effective decisions.

Thanks again!


Another Success Story From the Internet – and Email

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