How to Draw a Process Map

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A process map--also known as a flow chart--is a useful organizational tool, especially for those who are visual learners. Process maps can help to answer questions such as "what?", "why?" and "how?"; they are commonly used in business and software development to more clearly illustrate the steps of a complex process that has many possible actions and outcomes. They are key to making various concepts easy to understand, and therefore make those ideas easier to implement.

Figure out the starting state and ending state of the process. For example, a starting state for washing dishes might be "the dishes are dirty" and the ending state might be "the dishes are clean." The beginning and end of a process are denoted by ovals, on the map.

Decide what actions to perform in the process. It may be helpful to start from the starting point and work towards the end. The actions may be fairly general, and encompass several steps for a small process. For example, a general action for the dish washing example would be "wash the dishes." Alternately, the actions can be much more precise and list each step in detail. In this case, such steps might be "pick up a dish," "wash dish," "rinse dish," "dry dish" and "put dish away." Actions are denoted by boxes or rectangles.

Decide what decisions have to be made in the process. After each action is taken, a decision may need to be made to further the process. These decisions are typically framed as questions with a yes or no answer, such as "is the dish clean?" but may also be questions that have specific answers, such as "what kind of dish is it?" with possible answers being "china," "cookware" and "silverware." The answer to such decisions will determine how the process progresses.

Draw arrows between the states, actions and decisions to show the flow of the process. These arrows should be one-way. An action box and the beginning state should have one arrow leading out of it, but may have several leading into them. Decision diamonds should have two outbound arrows if it is a yes/no decision, or more if it's a decision with multiple options. The arrows from a decision box will lead either to an action further in the process or to a previous action in the process. Answering "yes" to "is the dish clean?" will lead to the "dry the dish" action, whereas "no" would lead back to "wash the dish."

Look over the finished diagram for any mistakes or omissions, and make corrections accordingly.


  • Post-It notes and a dry erase board can be helpful. Draw the action, decision and state blocks on Post-It notes and draw the connecting arrows on the board. This will allow you to add blocks, remove blocks, move them around and draw or erase arrows so that you can finalize the diagram before committing it to paper.