Knowledge acquisition through process mapping: Factors affecting the performance of work-based activity

Gareth White, Svetlana Cicmil

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Purpose – Business improvement initiatives have benefit for both an organisation’s operational effectiveness and its knowledge acquisition capabilities. These have a synergistic effect upon the ability to gain and maintain competitive advantage. Among the multitude of approaches that can be adopted process mapping (PMapping) is widely used. The purpose of this paper is to examine the utilisation of PMapping for undertaking business process improvement and the resultant acquisition of knowledge among those that are involved in its performance and the subsequent use of process maps (PMaps).
    Design/methodology/approach – Adopting the notion of "knowledge as knowing" and Activity Theory as the research framework, a four-year Participatory Action Research study of three organisations was conducted. Data were gathered through cyclically developed semi-structured interviews, on-site observation and instantaneously sampled field notes.
    Findings – It finds that PMapping is a useful technique for conducting business process improvements and acquiring knowledge of organisations and their people. It also finds that PMaps are useful knowledge repositories that have value beyond aiding the development of improved business processes. Socialisation is a key determinant of knowledge coproduction and transfer. This study finds that it occurs in formal and informal modes between individuals engaged in PMapping.
    Research limitations/implications – The choice of PMapping technique may have significant influence upon the knowledge that is acquired by individuals and organisations during business process improvement initiatives. Future research should explore the relationship between PMapping methods, their knowledge-generative potential and the usability of the resultant PMaps.
    Practical implications – Organisations undertaking business process improvement initiatives should take account of those factors that mediate its undertaking and its knowledge-generative potential. The objectives of improvement initiatives and of specific activities such as PMapping need to be carefully considered. Changes in objectives need clear communication and justification, and the purpose and benefit of such changes must be weighed against the potential detrimental effect that they may have upon the workforce. Inconsiderate goals setting and changing can lead to individuals coming under significant psychological and sociological pressures.
    Originality/value – This research furthers the understanding of knowledge acquisition and business process improvement in non-manufacturing environments. It identifies the challenges involved in adopting PMapping as a business improvement tool. It also provides insight into the use of the tool as a technique for fostering knowledge acquisition in individuals.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)302-323
    JournalInternational Journal of Productivity and Performance Management
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • knowledge acquisition
    • process mapping


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