After reviewing statistics from our website dashboard this morning, we were surprised to see that the #1 driver to our website is a search for the words "Turtle Diagrams". Special thanks to our friend - the turtle! For years now we have heard a handful of our customers fight with the concept of using a turtle diagram. Recently, I was in a heated discussion with an Engineering Manager who felt very strong about his position that "...turtle diagrams are a waste of time because they are only used during audits... to help an auditor be more efficient in his audit of us".
Well... yeah. I mean, PERFECTLY said (and thanks for making the argument easier for me Mr. Resister!). Turtle Diagrams at this organization were often only used by the auditors. But that doesn't mean that they were intended for the auditors. They were INTENDED for processes owners; a 1-page diagram that should be used to keep them on track with the expected outputs of the process they are responsible for. (Note: I said "process" they are responsible for and not "department" they are responsible for.)
Now, to address the portion of his statement: "...to help an auditor be more efficient in his audit of us". What's wrong with being efficient as an auditor? Furthermore, what's wrong with being efficient and organized as a process owner? The more focused you remain on the key deliverables, and the key resources needed to achieve these deliverables, the better chance you have at meeting the needs of your boss (your BOSS boss and your Customer).
Think of a turtle diagram as a point on the global when you go to Google Earth. Before you start navigating north, east, south or west, you first need to make sure you are on the right continent. From there, you can fine-tune and make adjustments. Start your process definition as a very high level. Gather all of the key resources, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses on the turtle and fine-tune from there.
For those of you who prefer a more mathematical explanation, work instructions are to assembly operators as turtle diagrams are to top managers responsible for the performance of a certain business process. Without identifying key outputs - critical to internal and customer satisfaction - it becomes difficult to align all of your tactical resources (man, machine, method, metrics, measurement systems, etc.) in order to achieve your strategic-level goals.
I encourage each organization that uses or considers using turtle diagrams to step back and evaluate the intent of this tool. Like any tool, turtle diagrams are only valuable if used as intended.