Home Topics What is Process Mapping? What is process mapping?
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What is process mapping?

Process mapping is a method that promotes a better understanding of processes and helps organizations identify areas for improvement.

Process mapping visually represents a workflow, enabling teams to understand a process and its components more clearly. There are various process maps, which you might know by different names, such as:

  • Flowchart
  • Detailed process map
  • Document map
  • High-level process map
  • Rendered process map
  • Swimlane
  • Value-added chain diagram
  • Value-stream map
  • Flow diagram
  • Process flowchart
  • Process model
  • Workflow diagram

These visual diagrams are typically a component of a company’s business process management (BPM).

A process map outlines the individual steps within a process, identifying task owners and detailing expected timelines. They help communicate processes among stakeholders and reveal areas of improvement. Most process maps start at a macro level and then provide more detail as necessary.

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Types of process maps

There are several different types of process maps. Some mapping techniques include:

  • Basic flowcharts are visual maps, which provide the basic details of a process such as inputs and outputs.

  • Deployment maps, also known as cross-functional flowcharts, display the relationships between different teams. These maps often use swimlane diagrams to illustrate how a process flows across the company, facilitating the identification of bottlenecks or redundancies.

  • Detailed process maps show a drill-down version of a process, containing details around any subprocesses.

  • High-level process maps, also known as value-chain or top-down maps, show a macro view of a process, including key process elements such as a supplier, input, process, output or customer (SIPOC).

  • Rendered process maps represent current state or future state processes to show areas for potential process improvement.

  • A value stream map (VSM) is a lean Six Sigma technique that documents the steps required to develop a product or service for a user.
Process mapping symbols

Process maps use visual representations, such as basic symbols to describe each element in the process. Some of the most common symbols are arrows, circles, diamonds, boxes, ovals and rectangles. These symbols can come from the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) or Unified Modeling Language (UML) (link resides outside IBM), which are graphical methods of notation for process maps.

Most organizations need to use only a few of the most common symbols to complete a process map. Some of these symbols include:

  • A rectangle is used to represent a specific process and its activities and functions.

  • An arrow is used to show both the direction of flow and the connection between steps.

  • An oval is often used to show the beginning or end points of a process flow.

  • A diamond is used to indicate a decision point. The process continues by following a predefined path depending on the decision.

  • A rectangle with one end rounded is often used as a delay symbol, showing a pause in the process before the flow continues.
How to create a process map

When developing your business process map, you’ll want to use this methodology:

  1. Choose a process to focus on: To make the biggest impact, you might want to prioritize a process that’s struggling to achieve outcomes or a process that impacts customer satisfaction.

  2. Get the right people involved: Gather those who have deep knowledge of the process that you’re looking to optimize. These subject matter experts (SMEs) will help you determine the critical information within the entire process, such as stakeholders, sequence of steps, timelines and resources. They can also highlight some of the problem areas, such as bottlenecks and redundancies, which might compromise efficiency. During this stage of the process, you want to document all relevant information around the process.  

  3. Outline the process map: During this step, you’ll want to determine where the current process starts and ends and the sequence of steps in between. While the level of detail can vary, information around inputs, outputs, metrics and stakeholders are typically included.

  4. Use basic flowchart symbols to enhance the process map: Refine the current process map by using basic flowchart symbols. Process mapping software is generally used to complete this step.

  5. Get feedback: Validate the enhanced process map with team members to confirm accurate process documentation, helping to ensure that steps are not repeated or missing. When stakeholders have agreed on the process steps within the current state, start to solicit feedback around potential process optimizations. This can involve the elimination of steps for simplification purposes or the incorporation of new ones to allow for more collaboration or quality assurance.
  6. Implement and observe the impact of process changes: Conduct a proof of concept (POC) with a subset of the team before scaling any changes broadly across the organization. This minimizes the risk to the business, and it provides the opportunity to incorporate more feedback to optimize the process, enabling management to shift to a new process at scale more smoothly. Regular monitoring of processes enables continuous improvement over time.
Why is process mapping important?

The primary purpose of business process mapping is to assist organizations in becoming more efficient and effective at achieving a specific task or goal. It does this by providing greater transparency around decision-making and process flow that in turn helps to identify redundancies and bottlenecks within and between processes.

Because process maps use visual cues and symbols, they make it simpler to communicate a process to a broad audience. This can lead to increased engagement, as long-form documentation can be more tedious for both owners to create and for users to interact with.

By using premade templates within process mapping software, teams can easily collaborate and brainstorm ways to streamline work processes, enabling business process improvement. In doing so, businesses can also better address specific challenges, such as employee onboarding and retention or declining sales.

Some specific benefits of process mapping include:

  • Better enablement for scenario tests and assessments.

  • Increased standardization and awareness of roles and responsibilities.

  • More straightforward identification of vulnerable aspects of a process.

  • Efficient team performance and employee satisfaction.

  • Shorter learning curve for employees during training.
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