Detail Process Charting:
Speaking the Language of Process of the most powerful tools available to improve work processes.
"A must-read for any competitive organization, Detail Process Charting: Speaking the Language of Process provides a comprehensive, yet clear, explanation of how to utilize one of the most powerful tools available to improve work processes. [Graham] has successfully integrated the history, success stories, and wisdom of those in the field who have applied this time-tested tool."
Jim Denyes, Training Manager, Naval Occupational Safety and Health, and Environmental Training Center
Author, Work Smarter, Not Harder


During the twentieth century, the United States became the most productive nation in the world. This, in turn, has given us a standard of living that makes us the envy of most of the world. Many factors have combined to generate this prosperity. One of these factors, which has contributed trillions of dollars to our benefit, works behind the scenes unknown to the population that enjoys these benefits. This factor is work improvement tools— tools designed to enable people to study and improve the way they do their work.

This book thoroughly describes what, in my estimation, is the one twentieth century work improvement tool most appropriate for the twenty-first century. It was specifically developed to chart and improve information processing at a time when the people who were actually doing that type of work made up only an insignificant portion of the labor force. The labor force was then made up mostly of blue-collar employees working in factories.

Times have changed! Today, the two largest categories of the U.S. labor force are professional (first) and clerical (second), and their work is made up almost exclusively of information. Most of us are in the information-processing business.

The earliest uses of this detailed information process charting technique were directed at smoothing out paperwork by studying what people did with their forms and records, step by step. This technique focused on information processes at a time when people were rather oblivious to work processes. We have been living in an information society for close to a quarter of a century, and the general public still knows little and cares less about information processes—except when they find themselves inconvenienced and frustrated by the bureaucratic nonsense that so often permeates the processes. But behind the scenes, a lot of people have become aware of processes, and consider them to be the most important factor in work improvement.

The fact that so much bureaucratic nonsense still exists is indicative of where we stand in the development of the information society. Wherever we have people making excuses for their work (e.g., “I’m sorry but that’s our procedure. We have to do it that way. I know it doesn’t make sense.”), we have another example of people locked into processes rather than being the masters of them. In spite of all the brilliant technology at our disposal, we are still in the early stages of the Information Age, as we were before mechanical drawing and interchangeable parts in the Industrial Age.

Sure, the word is out that processes are important. But, unfortunately, a lot of the work that is being done improving processes has lacked the rigor needed to do it well. Sometimes people attempt to chart processes by using flowcharts designed for computer systems work, but these are unable to follow the individual records and do not show the steps of work that the people do. Sometimes the charting has been little more than sketches of boxes and lines created from a conversational walk-through of a process. Sometimes there has been no charting at all. Yet, regardless of the approach, in time, improvements have usually been found because there is so much room for improvement.

Because these improvement efforts seem disorganized, they do little for the confidence of the people performing them, and they discourage the thought of continuous improvement. But these efforts could have produced finer improvements much more quickly with less effort and cost if rigorous technique had been used. And, they could have resulted in building libraries of process charts maintained on computers providing the fundamental ingredients needed for continuous process improvement. Here, now, is a book that makes this rigorous technique available.

This technique was, from its inception, intended for use with teams of experienced employees. That is not a new idea. Involving employees in improvement was being done by a lot of the best companies in the mid-twentieth century. (A number of these companies were singled out as world leaders by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their book In Search of Excellence in 1983.) These companies were using a technique called work simplification . From its beginning in the 1930s, work simplification focused on making use of the first-hand experience of the people who did the work. But work simplification was being done in the factories, and usually involved only one person. They didn’t require teams.

Improving information processes calls for interdepartmental teams of employees in order to capture the first-hand experience of the different parts of the process. This rubs against the grain in a lot of organizations. I can remember managers looking at me as if I was daft when I suggested that members of different departments work together on teams. On one occasion, the reaction was, “Departments working together on projects! That will never happen in this organization.” In a different company I was told, “I can see how it would work here, but our managers aren’t ready for that.” Today the reaction to employee teams is generally one of acceptance. In some organizations, teams have become commonplace—even interdepartmental teams.

One of the major catalysts in bringing about this change was M. Scott Myers, a consultant with whom I worked. His book Every Employee a Manager (McGraw-Hill, 1991) introduced the notion of functional silos . This concept has helped a lot of people to see the need for getting past the barriers to interdepartmental cooperation.

So, here we are at the start of a new millennium, trying to get our hands around the work of an information society, absolutely loaded with exciting new technology. We have companies being led by people who are aware of the crucial importance of process improvement and who are also amenable to the idea of having their employees involved in those improvement efforts.

This book explains the detailed process charting technique carefully enough that a person with reasonably good graphic skills can expect to be able to use the technique after reading it. So, get started. Build a library of process charts, and you will find that the obvious improvements they reveal will much more than cover the cost of the effort. Keep track of the savings, chart by chart. Your investment of time and effort will more than pay for itself. And, you will have a fine library of process charts (available at no cost) for training, for continuous improvement, to satisfy regulatory and/or certification requirements, to raise to a professional level the process analysis you are doing with Six Sigma, business process reengineering, and so on, and to put the people of your organization firmly in control of—make them the masters of—their processes.


The Amazing Oversight
A collection of classic essays by the pioneers of work improvement... AND it's available through Amazon for just a few dollars!

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send me a noteBen B Graham
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