A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

gombadmin Blog

by Kristen Cox, Executive Director

Can you imagine building a bridge simply by describing what it should look like through a narrative or public policy brief? Of course not. Engineers use detailed drawings to establish a shared understanding of the final product, the relationship between design features, structural dependencies, and dimensions. There is critical information that one gains through a picture that is otherwise difficult to ascertain.

In government, however, we tend to believe that entire systems can be constructed through the written word alone. We build countless systems within government exclusively through writing policy, procedures, audits and laws. These are obviously critical elements of any program or system—but they are not enough. So much of the work in government is invisible to us. Informal processes, workarounds, disruptions, and failure points occur every day without anyone really noticing. We simply cannot improve something unless we recognize it, and we will never focus on the informal processes and disruptions until we start looking at government programs and services very differently. Understanding how citizens or the actual work moves through a system has to be at the front and center of any high performing organization—a mindset that requires us to begin thinking systemically rather than narrowly and to transition abstract policy to a specific work flow.

Mapping our processes can help us uncover the invisible work that is going on every day within our systems and is driving our performance. Using tools to create visual pictures of our systems can make government more knowledgeable and provide us with a different perspective on what is really happening. Specifically, the right visual tools can help us:

  • Understand the flow of work
  • Identify where things are getting stuck
  • Clarify the dependencies and steps required to deliver a service
  • Find where rework is occurring
  • Identify where people or information are simply waiting and where time is being wasted
  • Detect how people are spending their time
  • Pinpoint where and how the system is breaking down
  • Find ways to reduce hand-offs and speed up the work
  • Detect cause and effect relationships

Truly, a picture is worth a thousand words. Regardless of whether someone is a social worker or is processing business permits, if done the correct way, visual maps can uncover significant opportunities to improve performance. Visual maps can communicate information that is impossible to obtain otherwise. To learn more about the tools GOMB uses to create visual maps of a system, click the “Resources” link under the Operational Excellence tab of the GOMB website.