Process Mapping Rules

process flow image by Christopher Hall from

It’s hard to keep track of a business as it grows. It can get even more confusing when you try to understand how the structure has changed over time through, for example, expansion or administrative changes. Process mapping helps management see the changes by way of a diagram. In order for the diagram to be accurate ,though, certain rules need to be followed in building a process map.

Define the Chart Symbols

Every process map has a set of symbols that represent different tasks. Before you begin building a process map, these symbols need to be defined. Ovals, for example, show input at the start of the process or output at the end of the process. Boxes or rectangles show tasks or activities that take place during in the process. Arrows show the direction flow, and diamonds show points in the process when questions are asked or a decision is needed. (For an example, see Resources.)

Define the Process

Determine where the process begins and where it ends. Process mapping is usually done when you’re changing the way people do their work, for instance adding an automated process, when your company is merging with another company, when you’re introducing a new product line and need to understand the impact it will have on your staff, tasks and technologies, and when you’re trying to cut costs and improve efficiency. Determine what you’re trying to do, when it begins, when it ends and name your process map accordingly.

List the Steps

The steps can show sufficient information or an abundance of detail. Whichever path you choose to take, keep the wording simple. Write each step in “verb-object” form such as “action plan.”

Create a Sequence

Using Post-It notes or index cards, map the steps from left to right in the form of a diagram. Don’t worry about drawing arrows or figures just yet. That happens once you have a visual idea of what your map will look like.

Draw the Diagram

Draw the symbols based on the rules you already outlined for each shape—ovals represent input and output, for example. After the symbols are in place, draw the arrows. If a shape calls for more than one arrow, you may need to place a decision diamond there so that when you reach that step, you’ll know there are alternatives that need to be considered. In drawing the chart, use a systems model approach, where every step is linked to the next step or outcome by an arrow. Make sure the model is complete and includes pertinent information.