Last August, Gardner/Fox, a design/build remodeling company in Bryn Mawr, Pa., hired a consulting firm to take the company through a procedure known as process mapping. Process mapping defines a company's functions then organizes them into a flow chart, using a timeline. The company wanted a map showing what happened from the time the phone rang on the receptionist's desk to performing the warranty work on a finished project.

The consulting company, DillonMarcus Ltd. of Moorestown, N.J., first met with a group consisting of anyone who had been at the company for five years or longer. The group wrote a mission statement then drafted a map tracing out who does what and when at the company. Management then scheduled a series of weekend retreats where four mixed groups of employees -- there are 58 total -- went through that map, step by step, listing the strengths, weaknesses, and action steps.

"We'd hear carpenters say, 'I didn't know it took six months to do design,'" says Gardner/Fox secretary/treasurer Mark Pennington. "Or, 'I didn't know we only get three construction jobs from 10 proposals.'"

Among the results were a change in the warranty policy -- from one year to five -- and the hiring of additional personnel in design and marketing. In addition, employees contributed many ideas on everything from expediting punch lists to project planning.

Gardner/Fox uses the map to familiarize new hires with company procedures. The biggest cost was the amount of employee time involved in meetings and discussions. The consulting itself cost $2,500 and was "well worth it," Pennington says.