The nature of my job requires me to audit many suppliers, and during these audits the topic of continuous improvement always crops up. I often find that organisations have started process improvement projects and written control plans without having mapped out the process first.
In order to be able to write an effective control plan, firstly we need to be able to understand its current state and capabilities.
Creating a map enables us to detect where delays and errors occur within a process, and put in place any corrective actions the operators can take to ensure the product is right before dispatch to the customer.
It makes the work more visible and helps to evidence the need for improvement. It also measures the effectiveness of the current state. Along with aiding those responsible for doing the work think about the work they are doing, and how to improve it.
There are many variations of process mapping, from relationship maps to swim-lane diagrams to process flowcharts and everything in between, but the reasons to map remain the same for all.
Essentially, process mapping should be the first practical step you take for any improvement project.