Process Map, what is, when, and how to use it?

Process mapping is a visual way to show the steps to complete a process.  There are different types of maps that range from a very high overview level to a detailed overview level of the process.  Which one you use depends on the purpose of your analysis.   We already discuss the Value Stream Map and today is the turn for the Process Map or detailed process map.

A Process Map (PM) is a basic flow chart that presents the step’s sequence to complete a single process, showing all the inputs and outputs.  PM is a low-level chart used with the participation of supervisors and process owners.

When do you use it?

  • The purpose of this map is to document a process, analyze and manage workflows.  
  • You can use this type of map whenever you want to take a close look of a process workflow, focusing on the sequence of steps regardless of who or what department complete them.  
  • The map is a drill-down view of the process, which make it an excellent tool to see the input and output details of the process as well as the decision points.  
  • PMs are good to identify opportunities to eliminate, simplify, rearrange, or combine steps.
  • To create process improvement tactical plans. 

How to draw a Process Map?

  1. This is a team exercise, invite a multi-functional group to draw the map.  Those who provide input or receive the output of the process should be part of it.  
  2. Define the process boundaries.  What triggers the process?  What ends the process?
  3. Use a verb or noun format to list the sequence of steps to complete the process. For example, use, go to, search for, calculate, analyze, verify, and call.
  4. Include mental steps like thinking, analyzing, counting, and others.
  5. Keep asking what happens next, until you reach the end of the process.
  6. Write each step, including the trigger either on a sticky note or directly on a whiteboard.  Choose whatever method works best for you.  I like to use 4 x 6 sticky notes because they are big enough, and it is easier to edit the map if you need to add steps or rearrange them.   Plus, you don’t need a whiteboard, a clean wall will suffice.
  7. Watch for repetitive steps, like going back and forth between screens, copy and paste information on the same document several times.
  8. At the end, go through the map once again to ensure all steps are included.

While drawing the map, promote the participation of the entire group, create a comfortable environment where team members that do not know the process well feel free to ask questions without any fear.  For example, they can help writing the steps or place the notes on the wall or board.  As with any other continuous improvement activity, this is a learning exercise.  Facilitate the event in such a way that people understand the purpose and learn how to do it.  The idea is to promote the use of simple tools that can help them to present their ideas visually or to show the process to other people.

Now you have another tool to analyze your processes, learn how to use it and practice while improving!

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