What is Process Mapping?
Table of Contents
Process mapping explained
A process map is a versatile tool that helps you visualize your workflow to improve efficiency. It provides clarity, helps teams brainstorm ideas for process improvement, improves internal communication, and provides process documentation. Creating a process map allows project managers to visualize all the contingencies of a project and to understand dependencies when working with cross-functional teams. When done well, process mapping also identifies areas of improvement. You can pinpoint bottlenecks, repetition, and delays in your processes. As a result, you can fix these issues and improve your processes. A process map also defines boundaries. Teams can see what’s involved in the process, how it works, and where it ends. Furthermore, a process map clarifies key information, such as who’s in charge of the process and the specific responsibilities required to keep the process moving along. A process map also measures the effectiveness of processes with certain goals and metrics, allowing teams to track their progress and reflect on their performance in real-time.
Why is process mapping important?
Process mapping brings clarity and organization to both new and existing processes. Take a look at some of the main reasons why process mapping is important:
It simplifies processes
Use a process map to streamline your processes. Remove unnecessary areas and simplify the entire process from start to finish.
It improves the understanding of a process
Share the process map with internal team members and external shareholders to create alignment across the business.
It improves communication
Encourage individuals to improve their communication by clearly outlining your project processes. Show everyone who’s involved in the process what their responsibilities are, and who to turn to if they have questions. This is particularly helpful for cross-functional teams who might be unfamiliar with team members from other departments.
It provides process documentation
Document your processes so you can standardize workflows across the business. Return to the process map in the future to analyze how the process is performing and make any necessary changes.
It helps to plan projects
Better plan and organize your upcoming projects with a process map. Visualize all the stages of your processes to ensure you have the information and resources you need to execute the project successfully.
Process map symbols
Standardized process map symbols come from the Unified Modeling Language (UML), which is a standardized format for creating process maps. To effectively design a process map, you need to understand the symbols and what they represent. Here are some of the most common symbols you’ll need to know:
An action, task, or operation that needs to be completed for the process to move forward.
A waiting period or delay somewhere in the process.
Actions related to a task that’s part of a larger process.
An initial step that sets up another step in the process.
Indicates the direction of the process map.
The entry and exit points of your process.
Indicates that a decision needs to be made. Arrows flowing from here usually have the following labels: true, false, yes, or no.
Information or objects that enter or leave the process.
A step that produces a document.
A step in the process where data is stored.
A selection of data that’s stored in a standard structure.
Process mapping examples
Here are some examples of the different types of process maps and how businesses use them.
Business process mapping
Business analysts and technical developers use BPMN diagrams to establish a thorough overview of business processes. The aim is to create a shared understanding of your business’s procedures. As a result, this diagram streamlines communication and improves productivity across the organization.
A swimlane diagram is a process flowchart that displays who’s responsible for certain parts of a process. The diagram is split into separate rows (or lanes), with each row representing a different team or department. Shapes in each lane represent the actions, and arrows show how the process progresses when each action is complete.
Value chain diagram
A value chain diagram (also known as a value chain analysis or value stream mapping) allows teams to analyze business activities. The aim is to see how you can gain a competitive advantage by improving your current processes. The connected boxes represent a simplified version of a process for quick understanding. With this basic overview, you can visualize your company's steps to improve customer value.
How to create a process map
Process maps often break down complex processes, but creating one doesn’t have to be complex. Follow these simple steps to easily create a successful process map for you and your team.
Start with a template
By using a process map template, you can jump straight in and start plotting your processes in a matter of clicks. Customize the existing layout to create a process map that reflects your process. Add new columns, sticky notes, or shapes — whatever you need to create an accurate process map
Identify the process
Now, it’s time to identify the process. Are you mapping a sales process? An internal process? The customer journey? This will be the heart of your process map, so it’s important that you and the rest of your team know what you’re trying to achieve. Hosting a meeting is a great way to align your team in this area. Whether in person or online, gather your team to discuss the process and why you want to create or improve it. It doesn’t have to be a long and detailed meeting. As long as everyone understands the process and why you’re mapping it, you’re on the right track.
Brainstorm process activities
The next step is to focus on what activities are involved throughout the process. Work with your team to brainstorm the different phases and visualize how the process works. There are various brainstorming techniques to choose from, so find one that works best for you and your team. Then, host the session and discuss all the key process steps. Putting the process steps in order at this stage is not vital, but it can be helpful for some teams. Linearly mapping the stages will ensure you haven’t missed any key steps. You may also want to add structure by identifying where and when the process starts and stops.
Add process map symbols
With your process in place, it’s time to assign the relevant symbols. That way, anyone looking at the process map will understand what the different elements mean and how they relate.
Finalize the process map
Now, you can finalize the process map. Review how it flows, whether all the relevant steps have been included, and ensure it accurately represents the process. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to ensure your process map has everything it needs:
Is the process running as it should?
If there are any areas where things don’t run smoothly, return to the drawing board to put it right.
Is anything redundant?
You must remove any redundant actions to ensure your processes are as efficient as possible. This means cutting parts of the process that aren’t vital to its success.
Will team members follow the process?
If the process isn’t easy to follow, or if team members can’t follow it for any reason, you may need to rethink the structure.
Are any steps missing?
As you look at the process map, move through each step to ensure everything is in place. If anything is missing, now’s the time to add it in. After answering these questions, your process map will be as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
Before you share the final process map with your team, you need to define success. This means identifying what your process should achieve, how you plan to achieve it, and how you’ll measure its success. To create a clear and measurable definition of success, take a look at SMART goals. The SMART goals framework helps teams create specific, measurable, and realistic goals. Using this model, you can precisely plot what your process aims to do. You can use it to track your progress along the way and see when your process has reached its goal. If the process doesn’t achieve its goal, you can review what went wrong and put things right for the future.
Share the process map with your team
With your goals in place, you can now share the final process map with the relevant stakeholders. These could be team members, clients, supervisors, suppliers, customers, or anyone impacted by how the process works. Have all relevant stakeholders review and add comments, ask questions, and leave feedback directly on the process map. When it comes to reviewing their suggestions, a process map makes it easier for you. You don’t have to flick between different platforms or speak to everyone individually. Instead, you can simply access the process map online and see all the feedback in one place. After reviewing their notes, you can make any necessary changes before launching the process.
Update, iterate and improve
Process maps aren’t final. Changes will inevitably come your way, whether it’s a new business structure or your customers completely changing what they want from your business. Your processes will need to adapt to keep up with a changing environment. This means reviewing your process map for continuous improvement and making relevant changes to keep it up-to-date.
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