What is process mapping?
Process mapping describes a series of connected steps or actions that achieve an outcome. Organizations often use it to gain an understanding of their existing functional processes and a clear sense of their needs. This enhances their ability to develop a deliberate course of action to improve the timeliness and quality of services.

As forensic planners, we also use process mapping to translate scientific needs into improvements in facility design. Incorporating results derived from process mapping into the pre-design phase of a facility adds a greater level of detail and understanding of forensic scientific methodologies. Additionally, it informs solutions for developing facilities that address equipment needs, variable analytical demands, contamination issues, staff health and safety, and even security.

Our version of process mapping is a software-based tool that establishes a clear and comprehensive picture of how the forensic laboratory currently works or plans to work. It visually displays starting and ending points for functional activities, standards, and quality of input sequences throughout the process. The process could belong to a scientific group, a department, a single scientist, public interaction with a forensic facility, and even the evidence receipt activity, to name a few. It also documents relationships of each function tomore fully understand existing processes and purpose for the outcome.

There are many different layers of activities and resources that we can reviewin addition to the analytical process, such as:

  • Personnel
  • Performanceimprovement opportunities
  • Technology
  • Training
  • Casemanagement enhancements
  • Accreditation

Not only can process mapping make work more visible so that a frame of reference is established, it canalso aid the agency in other ways tied to facilities management, such as:

  • Analyzing existing or programmed spaces
  • Validating staff numbers and equipmentneeds
  • Confirming adjacencies between departments
  • Setting updatabases for new protocols
  • Verifying square footage amounts
  • Enhancing space efficiencies

A process map uses symbols, lines, and text to depict operations in graphical form. There are three basic types of maps: relationship, cross-function, and flowchart. Relationship and cross-function maps focus on either the big picture of products and services or the organization of personnel and responsibilities. Flowcharts illustrate actual work processes, breaking down tasks into smallcomponents. We will explore flowcharts in greater detail in this article.



Level of Detail
Time Analysis
A list of activities together with the analyst’s estimates of time spent on each activity forms the basis for mapping. Our objective for time analysis is to estimate the average time required to solve a case. By collecting this data and comparing it against other agencies and national averages, we provide a benchmark for goals and expectations. Table 1 illustrates the time spent to analyze four sexual assault kits. On average, 50% of sexual assault cases proceed to DNA analysis, adding 25 hours of lab analysis for a total of 45.5 hours. The average for two cases is 33 hours of analyst time.

Resource Analysis
In process mapping, “resources” are people. A map assigns a resource for each activity. If salary is available, the map can also calculate the total cost of a resource’s time. One result of breaking down each task by resource is discovering activities that could be automated, simplified, or reassigned to other resources both within and outside the agency.

For example, the Serology/DNA map (Figure 1) illustrates the use of three resources for a sexual assault case – Analyst I, Analyst II, and Administrative. Analyst I activities include search file folders to pull cases, retrieve evidence, bring evidence to the lab, write chain of custody form, perform analysis, type findings, store evidence, and forward the file to Analyst II or Administrative. If validation is required, Analyst II performs a peer review before moving the case from the lab. Once delivered, Administrative merges the typed report with the lab’s database; another analyst reviews it; Administrative mailsto the appropriate parties; and follows up by verbal agency notification.

Translating the map, shown in Figure 2, into architecture leads to a design solution that locates these resources in close proximity to each other while providing adequate space for each to complete their activities. A closer look at administrative activities reveals that work is currently completed on a word processor. Introducing a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) would reduce paperwork time for all resources. A LIMS does, however, require additional space and services—from location and security concerns of the server to provision of the right amount of surface for remote units andthe activity surrounding it.

Swim Lanes
Swim lanes are another way to indicate where a resource performs an activity. Figure 2 demonstrates a group’s activities broken into three lanes either inside or outside the laboratory environment. Identifying the appropriate amount of time spent in a particular environment allows the design team to size the mechanical, electrical, plumbing systems to match up with the activities—from amount of fresh air and number of air changes per hour for each space to number of watts per square foot, and from how clean power must be to deciding if central piped nitrogen is required over a local cylinder or if a generatorwill meet the need.

Occurrence Rate
Above each activity box are activity values including activity frequency. Some activities occur parallel (together), and some occur serially. The two DNAextraction activities (Figure 3) are performed in different sequences resulting in different time totals. For crime scene sample extraction, evidence integrity is maintained by working cases separately—thus for a 180-minute activity, the total for two cases is 360 minutes. The extraction of known samples (standards) can be worked in parallel requiring 180 minutes total for two cases.

The analyst establishes occurrence rates based on experience, and the design team validates them through interviews, time collection techniques, and physical observation.

Activity Type
Each resource activity is “typed” to understand how resources spend time. This benefits process mapping by breaking down time into different types of categories. For example, “report typing” and “report processing” are two different types of activities performed by two different resources: analysts and administrative staff. Usually the analyst types a report document on a computer using software such as Microsoft Word. The administrative staff takes the Word document and pastes it into the final report, still using Word. If analysts used a LIMS with standard report formatting available, the administrative staff’s time processing reports would be greatly reducedand thus could be directed to other activities.




Approach to Generating a Process Map

There are several ways to collect the information needed to create a map of existing processes. The design team may submit a time collection tool to the key individual who represents the functional process. The design teamanalyzes this tool and then generates a process map.

Another approach is physically observing the activities. Here the design team spends time in the lab with users and documents their activities every step of the way. Documentation includes using the time collection tool, interviews, and photographs.

The design team conducts one-on-one interviews with key individuals involved in the function to transfer their knowledge and performance of activities into data for the process map. We can use this information to develop a prototype model. Those involved in the process then review the information for completeness and accuracy.

Another option to this method is to conduct a group interview. This option provides maximum direct interaction among everyone involved, building consensus while forming the process map. With this method, oftentimes the group establishes a sense of ownership for the map and work processes.

Process mapping does help crime labs improve their current forensic processes and operational management. Taking these new understandings and translating them into architecture will improve facility design as well. We believe that a process mapping exercise benefits the whole forensic facility in several ways: a very specific understanding of forensic scientific methodologies that will influence space, from understanding the delays in the process to adding more staff, more analytical equipment and more space to improve case turn around time.

Ken Mohr is a Principal and Sr. Forensic Laboratory Planner with HERA, Inc., laboratory consulting partner firm in Crime Lab Design. His 17 years of experience with advanced laboratories includes nearly 4 million square feet of forensic facilities. Ken can be reached at

Nancy Sopuch is a Laboratory Programmer with HERA, Inc. With 20 years of experience, she has programmed advanced laboratories across the country for forensic, academic, and government clients.