Operating a business efficiently while meeting growth targets and hitting revenue goals is no walk in the park. This is especially true when you have a complex array of processes, departments, and internal requirements or procedures that must be followed.
Staying organized and documenting each step of a business process is absolutely essential if you want to maintain the consistency and visibility necessary to meet strategic goals. Luckily, this is the essence of business process mapping.
In this guide, we’ll explore what business process mapping is, why businesses use it to improve processes, and how to use diagrams, flow charts, and detailed documentation to define each process and all of the people, inputs, and systems to create your own process map.
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What is business process mapping?
Business process mapping is the practice of defining each step of a process. It includes an inventory of all of the tasks, activities, inputs and outputs that take place during the process.
A business process map will answer important questions such as:
- Who is the process intended for?
- What will be the end result of the process?
- What is this process accomplishing?
- When will this process take place?
- Where is this process going to take place?
- How will this process be executed?
- What resources are required to complete this process?
A business process map is essential for standardizing and controlling outcomes for any type of business process.
Business process mapping and standard flowchart symbols
Business process maps are sometimes referred to as process flowcharts or process diagrams. That’s because they are usually presented as a visual representation of the process. To create the visualization, standard flowchart symbols are typically used.
Task or activity (rectangle)
Tasks or activities within a business process map are designated as a rectangle with rounded corners. This rectangle contains text that describes the task or activity it represents and may contain additional information, such as the people or systems required to complete the task. Sometimes, a task or activity may be detailed with additional loops and subprocesses.
Events or triggers that complete, modify, and start processes will be designated as circles in business process maps. Each circle includes a description of the event it depicts. Events can be based on a timer, message, signal, escalation, compensation, cancellation, and others.
Gateway or decision point (diamond)
A gateway is a decision point that adjusts which path is taken in a process and is typically depicted as a diamond. Depending on the complexity of your process, gateways can be parallel, based on data or events, complex, inclusive, or exclusive.
Process flow (directional arrow)
To describe the flow of process steps in a process map, directional arrows are used to depict the event sequence visually.
Why you need business process mapping
Processes are essential to managing a business, but they can also be complex. A typical process includes many handoffs, requires data from multiple systems and apps, and depends on activity and input from a number of stakeholders.
Every process is an equation, and an equation can’t be controlled unless every variable is accounted for. Business process mapping identifies and defines each of those variables and helps teams understand their processes at a deeper level so that they can be controlled better.
Business process mapping benefits
There are many business process mapping benefits, including the ability to visualize all of your most important processes, effective process management, and making it easier to achieve process standardization.
Business process mapping makes processes visible. You’ll be able to see the inputs, outputs, and internal sequences of each process clearly from a top-level perspective without getting lost in the weeds or overwhelmed with process complexity. Process visualization is absolutely critical if you’re training new employees or trying to explain how a particular process works to clients or stakeholders.
Business process management can be incredibly challenging. Processes are complex and there are many of them. Fortunately, business process mapping can significantly reduce the amount of expended effort on process management since you can now visually see each task and activity. This allows you to prioritize which specific tasks, events, inputs, or outputs you monitor for efficiency and quality control.
Good management ties closely with good organization, which is exactly what business process management provides.
Process standardization enables teams to reproduce processes and results with consistency. Standardization also makes it easier to enforce security requirements, train new employees, and replicate processes as they scale.
For businesses that have to comply with third-party audits and standards for quality management, business process maps are a vital part of being compliant for these audits. For instance, ISO 9001 compliance requires a business process map to ensure that a company’s products meet government regulations and successfully meet customer needs as well.
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Process mapping vs. process modeling: What’s the real difference?
Even though process mapping and process modeling appear similar at first glance, there is a key difference.
Process mapping refers to describing each and every task, step, and activity involved in a business process. It is concerned with attaining a deep understanding of each component in the process.
Process modeling, on the other hand, refers specifically to the graphical representation of the workflows and processes within an organization.
This visualization — or process map — will guide you through all of the inputs, outputs, internal processes, subprocesses, decision points, and any other details required to carry out the process. Process modeling is typically used as a base point for process improvement, identifying bottlenecks, and optimizing processes in the most effective ways possible.
How to create a process map
1. Define the start and end points of the process
Processes can get messy, so it’s a best practice to start by understanding process boundaries. This means knowing what starts or triggers the process, as well as the end result or outcome/output that signals when the process is complete.
2. Identify relevant information
After you’ve established the process boundaries, focus only on relevant information. For example, if you’re mapping a process for onboarding new employees, take the time to think through every step of the onboarding process. Record these steps as line items that’ll be included in your map. You may need to run through the process multiple times to capture the documentation and resources required for mapping every step.
3. Get input from key stakeholders
Collaborate with those who have hands-on experience with the process. Their insights and experience can help you uncover steps in the process that would otherwise be overlooked. This is especially helpful for securing buy-in later on if the process is modified.
4. Determine what makes the process successful
Once you’ve gathered all of the preliminary details about your process and conferred with stakeholders, you should be able to answer these two questions:
- What determines if this process is successful?
- What is the desired outcome?
Once you understand the purpose of the process, you are ready to proceed with the business process map.
5. Create an inventory of all tasks, handoffs, and activities
An accurate inventory of each component in the process (or workflow) is necessary for total visibility and control. To do this, you’ll need to do a walkthrough of the process in order to identify each separate task, activity, handoff, and system related to the process.
For example, if the process is request management, you’ll need to determine all sources for incoming requests, consider how they are routed, identify the team members who handle the requests, and the apps and systems they use to do so. Pay special attention to handoffs in the process because these can be the source of miscommunications, bottlenecks, or delays.
For each of the tasks and activities in the process, make sure you note any significant information that could impact the outcome of the process as a whole.
6. Organize and document your information
Business process mapping can be time-intensive, so you want to make sure that your efforts make an impact. The best way to do that is to organize your information so that others can understand it. This may be a list of steps with notes, or it may be a visual representation created with an app or process mapping tools.
However you decide to do it, the end result should be documented and stored for future reference.
7. Use the process map as a baseline for optimization
A completed process map provides valuable insights into how your business carries out its workflows and activities. When processes aren’t delivering the target outcomes, use the process map as a reference point for process optimization or process automation efforts. Process maps are also valuable for training new employees.
Learn more about making a process map.
6 tips for successful business process mapping
Follow these tips to ensure your organization is successfully and consistently creating business process maps.
- Make sure you consult with the people who know the process inside and out. These are the team members who have their hands on the process and who carry out the activities and tasks.
- Look for opportunities to create a structured process. For some companies, different teams or departments carry out the same process in very different ways. This may make sense depending on the circumstances, but in general a structured process is more easily monitored and controlled.
- Be wary of assumptions. Dig into the details of how each step is done to make sure that you’re not overlooking key information. For example, the way a task or activity is being handled may not always be the logical or most efficient way of doing things, even if people believe that it is. Another example of this would be an assumption that “someone else is managing that.” Find out who and find out how.
- Validate your process inventory and map with other team members.
- Review all of the apps, systems, and tools involved in the process to identify silos, process friction, or blind spots. Check with your IT team to see what insights they might be able to provide or to determine if they have concerns or issues with the current process structure. Ask them if the current version of the process is helping them achieve stack extensibility.
- Consider implementing a low-code automation tool. Processes evolve as business needs change and new components are added to the tech stack. Low-code automation tools make it easy for business teams to modify and update their processes quickly, without having to send every request to the IT team. In addition to conserving developer resources, low-code tools keep business teams agile and help eliminate manual processes.
Common types of flowcharts for business process mapping
Flowcharts complement and extend the work of business process mapping by organizing information and making work visible. The most common types are basic flowcharts, business process modeling, and value stream mapping.
Basic flowcharts are the most common type of diagram used to visualize business process maps and include shapes such as rectangles for tasks and activities, circles for events, and diamonds for gateways or decision points. For most business process maps, a standard flowchart will more than suffice.
Business process modeling
Business process modeling is very similar to standard basic BPM flowcharts, but it has additional details that allow for continuous process improvement and process optimization in the long run. A business process model will be created with optimization, improvement, and operational excellence in mind.
Value stream mapping (VSM)
Value stream mapping is very useful in many different industries and is a flowchart method that’s used to analyze and illustrate the steps for delivering a specific product or service to clients or customers. Each VSM will have detailed steps describing the flow required to take a product from inception to delivery at your customer’s door. These maps are useful in eliminating waste and ensuring that there aren’t any steps that don’t add value to customers.
How can I effectively map my business process?
If your organization is interested in effectively modeling and mapping your business processes, the best way to get started is by following the process map creation steps earlier in this guide. This ensures that the experts, stakeholders, and team members that frequently work with the process can chime in with recommendations.
Creating an effective business process map is a collaborative process that will require you to work with your teams and departments in order to create the most effective map you can. Remember, you can always optimize and update your map in the future.
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