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How Do You Conduct a Process Map?

How Do You Conduct a Process Map?

Process maps are an excellent way to bring clarity to how work gets accomplished in the organization. Maps make processes tangible which helps visualize how a process plays out and interacts with other processes and systems. This visibility helps you coordinate improvement projects, choose measures, manage employees, support strategic planning, automate work, and communicate relationships between processes. And just as importantly pinpoint variants and nonvalue-added tasks.

Process maps come in many forms and levels of detail.  

  • High-level—a simplified (typically horizontal, includes 5-6 steps) process flow that indicates the core steps in the process. Some high-level processes will also include the sub-processes for each (again typically no more than 5-6.)
  • Detailed—drills into the details of the high-level map. It will include the sub-processes, decision points, rework loops, and often includes triggers, inputs, and outputs of the process. 
  • Swim lane (also referred to as cross-functional flow chart)—maps the steps of the process and shows where the steps fit regarding different departments. The purpose of a swim lane is to illustrate the relationship between different functional groups involved in the process. 
  • Value stream—commonly found in Lean practices. These maps visualize the flow of materials or information through the steps of the process to bring the final product or service to the end-user. 

Regardless of which type of map you use there are 5 simple steps to create a process map fit for purpose.  

Step 1: Determine the Process’ Scope 

The first step is about creating some boundaries and a common understanding around what will be mapped and the context of the process. This requires a discussion on:  

•    the relative environment that could affect the process,
•    the key stakeholders and their needs, and 
•    the boundaries and constraints of the process (i.e., where it begins and ends and its resource limitations.)

Step 2: Gather Process Information

The second step is to collect relevant information on the process and its steps. There are many ways to go about this including: interviews of subject matter experts, a workshop approach using experts and stakeholders, automated process mining (from event logs), and/or a focused project driven by experts and a business process management team. 

Step 3: Identify the Inputs and Outputs

The third step is where you start the mapping work. This means taking the inputs from the previous two steps to understand the suppliers of data, inputs needed, processing of inputs, output requirements, and customer of the output— commonly called a SIPOC. The focus is on capturing all the stakeholders and the set of inputs and outputs rather than the individual steps in the process. Which ultimately helps you understand the high-level process, delineate hand-offs, and foster a cross-functional perspective.

Step 4: Analyze the Process

The fourth step focuses on developing a detailed understanding of process needs, constraints, and performance drivers. There are several types of analysis that can be used in this stage, but one crucial form of analysis is the RACI chart. This analysis helps identify the roles and responsibilities within the process and ensure that all players understand how they work together. The analysis helps ensure you have all the information to map out your process. 

Step 5: Map the Process 

The final step is the actual mapping. There are a few decisions you must make at the outset. 

  • What type of map? High-level to create clarity on the process or swim lane map to align departments on responsibilities and handoffs. 
  • Which format? Are you keeping things simple for your teams and want to use known tools like paper, whiteboards, or PowerPoint? Or do you plan on digitizing your maps or have already invested in technology where you will need to train your team on the tools (e.g., Visio)?
  • Who will map? Is buy-in and collaboration a big driver of your process efforts so SMEs in the business will draft the maps or use them to co-create in a workshop? Or do you have all the inputs you need, and a process analyst will create the first draft and then verify with the SMEs?

One key thing to keep in mind is always start with the simplest features of a process and then drill down. Hence you should start with a simple or high-level map before moving into the detailed version. Additionally, the inclusion of details such as roles and decision models can be integrated once the most basic path of the process has been mapped.

For more information on this topic check out Building Process Maps: How to Use a Process Classification Framework or End-to-End Process Maps and Measures to help get started on your end-to-end process mapping efforts. 

For more process and performance management research and insights, follow me on Twitter at @hlykehogland or connect with me on LinkedIn.