Process mapping is a visual practice used to gain a clearer understanding of how a process works and typically includes a diagram mapping the flow of work or all the steps that make up a business process.
Why is process mapping important for businesses?
With process mapping, you can easily gain an overview of how processes are carried out, how they can be improved or constrained, and how many steps are necessary to drive the process to its endpoint.
Some organizations also use process maps as guides or diagrams for procedural tasks, so employees know the correct order to follow in a process workflow. Generally, the result of process mapping is done in order to establish company execution standards or procedures.
What’s the difference between process mapping and workflow mapping?
Process mapping and workflow mapping are often used interchangeably, but there’s a clear difference between the two practices. To illustrate the difference between process mapping and workflow mapping, imagine that you’re going on a trip.
Process mapping will show you the space between Point A and Point B. Meanwhile, workflow mapping will provide important information like turns, tolls, rest stops, road closures and whatever else is critical to successfully completing the trip.
Applying that logic to a business process, a process map shows you the full picture — such as start point and endpoint — and a workflow map breaks down everything that happens between those two points — such as who’s involved, when they’re involved, and the tasks that need to be finished — in order for the process to be completed.
For a better understanding of workflow and process, let’s get back to the basics. A workflow is a set of repeatable steps that produce a single outcome. A process is a broader group of activities that typically includes one or more workflows.
Benefits of using process mapping and workflow mapping together
Simultaneously practicing both methods can improve existing processes by:
- Tracking the amount of time it takes to complete a process
- Finding process bottlenecks
- Enforcing execution standards with required fields or approvals
- Determining which tasks can be automated
Common process mapping examples
There are many different ways for you to build process documentation and develop your processes map. You can use flowcharts, diagrams, mind-maps, or whatever your creativity suggests, but there are some widely used and recognized methodologies out there.
Below are the 3 most common diagram examples used for business process mapping:
Value stream mapping (VSM) diagram
A VSM diagram is one of the seven Lean principles, a methodology that continually seeks to improve business processes by mapping the value of a business process. It is a visual representation of all interactions you have with your customer and the value delivered by each interaction.
For example, if the value is everything your customer is willing to pay for, think about the steps you need to face in order to deliver this value.
A value stream map combines all those steps together, provides a big-picture visualization of all added value or wasteful practices, and allows you to analyze and identify ways to improve the value delivery process.
Here’s what a VSM looks like:
Business process model and notation (BPMN) diagram
BPMN is perhaps the most commonly used process mapping methodology and uses symbols to create a graphic representation of the process — like ovals for the start and endpoint, rectangles for tasks/steps, diamonds for decision points, and arrows to mark the process direction flow.
The final result is something like this:
Supplier, input, process, output, and customer (SIPOC) diagram
A SIPOC diagram is a high-level process map that results in a very detailed diagram. It looks difficult at first, but it’s one of the most intuitive and practical ways to quickly understand phases of a process when things start and end with inputs and outputs.
To create and understand a SIPOC diagram, apply these prompts across every phase to better understand the purpose of its flow:
- Supplier: who inputs the information to start the process?
- Input: what does this person input?
- Process: what do you do with this information?
- Output: what is the result after processing it?
- Customer: who did you deliver that processed information to?
Below is the framework of what a SIPOC diagram looks like when it’s implemented:
What is the best way to map a process?
While there isn’t a universal way to map a business process, you should choose a process mapping methodology that addresses the level of detail you seek.
In some cases, the diagrams can even be complementary of one another: use a VSM diagram to understand the big picture and value delivered to your customers, a BPMN diagram if you want functional flowcharts and a better understanding of where the information comes and goes, and a SIPOC diagram for a detailed understanding of inputs and outputs.
What they all have in common is the ability to provide a clearer understanding of activities, flow, people, and resources involved in the process — from start to finish.
How to start process mapping: a step-by-step guide
Now that you know what process mapping is, the advantages of mapping your process, and the three common diagrams used to map a process, it’s time to start your own. If you’re in doubt of which to use, we recommend starting with the SIPOC diagram.
Use these seven steps to start mapping out your business processes:
1. Collect important process information.
For this step, the goal is to gather all the information you can. This is where you’ll truly understand how things happen within your process. Identify what people do, why they do it, how long it takes for them to do it, and what resources they need to do it. Whether you shadow employees or conduct interviews to collect the information needed, don’t forget to write it down.
2. Identify suppliers and customers.
In addition to the team responsible for executing and managing a process, there are two other relevant participants: suppliers and customers. Suppliers are responsible for triggering the start of your process and customers are the ones who receive the outcome. So as important as identifying where and when a process starts and ends, it’s equally important to identify who the key people involved in this process are.
3. Establish the process boundaries.
Identify where or when the process starts and its activities/triggers (inputs) and where or when it ends and what the final result is (outputs). Sometimes a process has more than one end, so it’s important to map all of them out to determine all possible outcomes. An example of process boundaries include:
- For a recruitment process, the input is an application to the open position and the output is either a selected candidate on an archived CV.
- For a bug tracking process, the input would be a new bug found; and the output a bug solved.
4. List and order the actions.
Now that you know where things start and end, it’s time to list the steps in between. Use an action verb to describe each step or task. You can either keep it high level or go into detail. Here is an example of what this would look like for a purchase process:
- Fill out a purchase request form
- Review the request
- Ask for a quote from three different suppliers
- Choose the best quote
- Send the purchase request and best quote to the requester’s manager for approval.
- If approved, send the purchase order to the supplier and pay; if rejected, alert the requester.
- Wait for the product to be delivered
- Evaluate supplier services
5. Determine business process rules and handoffs.
Business rules are conditions that make decisions easier. An example of a business rule is if a sales opportunity is bigger than US$10,000, a senior account executive should be assigned as a reviewer; or if a purchase request is lower than US$10,000, it does not need an additional reviewer. A handoff represents a change of responsibilities between teams. For example, when someone buys your product, there is a handoff between the sales and custom success departments.
To complete this step, you’ll need a deep knowledge of the process, the business strategy, and how things connect and correlate.
6. Review your process map and optimize.
Once your flowchart is done, analyze the information you’ve gathered and determine if the process is actually running the way it’s supposed to. As you review, ask questions like:
- Are the correct people involved in the process?
- Are the people involved in the process actually following the ideal flow?
- Are there any missing or redundant steps that could be added or eliminated?
7. Repeat for continuous improvements.
Making gradual process improvements is the key to running efficient and goal-oriented processes. After you finish process mapping, it’s essential to follow up on your process execution so you’re headed in the direction of continuous improvement.
Use Pipefy to turn your process map into a process improvement plan
Mapping your process has many benefits, but one that can leave many stumped and wondering: What’s next? How do I share the information I’ve gathered and collaborate with everyone? Is process mapping enough to guarantee a standardized execution? How can I extract data from my process?
With Pipefy, you can turn your process mapping exercise into a process improvement plan. Pipefy’s low-code/no-code BPM platform helps you track important KPIs, and centralize your stack with integrations, and standardize and automate your business processes.
Keep reading to learn more about workflow management and how a BPM like Pipefy can help take the guesswork out of running your business process.