Business process mapping provides business leaders with the opportunity to clarify how processes are actually being performed. It reveals problems such as bottlenecks and variation in how the process is performed by different groups or individuals. Leaders can also find out if the way the process is actually done differs from the way that it should be done. Creating a process map, also called a flowchart, is a major component of Six Sigma process management and improvement, but can be beneficial even without the full framework of Six Sigma.
Gather information from individuals who actually perform the process about how it is done. Be sure to find out whether steps vary under different circumstances or for different people. Focus on how the process is currently being done, not on how it is supposed to be done.
Decide which type of process map to create. A basic activity flowchart shows the flow of steps in the process including decision points, while a deployment flowchart also clearly depicts the involvement of different groups or people. For the latter, create columns for each individual or group and draw each step in the appropriate column to indicate who is performing the step.
Start your business process map by drawing an oval or rounded rectangle, the standard symbol for the starting point. For an activity flowchart, draw the starting point at the upper left of the page of your paper or software page. For a deployment chart, draw it at the top of the appropriate column.
Label the starting point with a phrase indicating that it is the starting point, such as "Call comes in" or even just "Start." Each of your steps will be labeled in this way, and should include a verb to represent an action taken.
Create each of the process steps by drawing a rectangle and labeling it. Every step should have its own representation. Do not combine steps in one shape using the word "and" to connect more than one verb or action.
Connect the steps with arrows showing the direction of process flow. It is okay if your map wraps across several lines to fit on the page; the arrows make the flow apparent regardless of the physical arrangement of the steps.
Use a diamond shape to represent a decision point any time the next step depends on a specific circumstance. For instance, a process map for an online shopping cart would have a decision point representing the customer's choice to pay by credit card or using PayPal.
Indicate the steps that follow a decision point by creating the rectangular symbols and labeling them and adding the arrows to show the process flow. Label each of the arrows leading from the decision point, to clarify the condition that leads to following that path. In our current example, use the label "PayPal" for one arrow and "credit card" for the other.
Add a final oval or rounded rectangle shape labeled "End" as the last step to indicate the end of the process.
Review your process map to ensure that it reads correctly. Also have a few individuals who perform the process review it, to ensure that it accurately depicts what they do.
Programs such as Microsoft Visio have special features for creating process maps, but other graphics programs or PowerPoint can be used as well. When you first gather information about the process, write each step on a small sticky note and then arrange them to show the process flow. This method can be easier than trying to create the process map all at once from the beginning. If your process involves a lot of hand-offs between groups or individuals, you may want to use a deployment flowchart to explicitly illustrate the involvement of various parties.
- Image by Heidi Wiesenfelder