What is a Process Map?
You have probably heard of the term ―Process Map‖ or a process flow chart (the terms process map and process flow chart are used interchangeably) to describe a process. But what exactly is a process map anyway? Are there different types of process maps? Are all process maps created equal? We’ll try to answer some of these questions by taking a look at seven different types of process maps and how they are used to describe a process. After all, the foundation of all businesses is a common set of core processes.
In summary, a process is a structured set of activities that transform inputs into outputs. We believe processes should be measurable with clear performance indicators. Processes are strategic assets of an organization that if managed well deliver a competitive advantage. And processes assist us in defining responsibilities, internal controls, and work standards for compliance, consistency, and performance.
Process Flows or Activities
A ―process map‖ visually describes the flow of activities of a process. A process flow can be
defined as the sequence and interactions of related process steps, activities or tasks that make up an individual process, from beginning to end. A process map is read from left to right or from top to bottom. We prefer to minimize ―backflow‖ or arrows that go from right to
left or bottom to top because it can greatly confuse the reader (more on this later).
It helps if a process map identifies a Supplier providing Inputs to a Process, which produces
Outputs for a Customer. We call this basic format a SIPOC (Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer) diagram (Figure 1). There are many variations of this SIPOC theme but it does provide a useful framework for understanding the critical elements, sources, and outputs of a process.
Standard symbols are used within a process map to describe key process elements. These symbols come from the Unified Modelling Language or UML, which is an international standard for drawing process maps. There are many symbols that can be used. Figure 2 provides some common UML symbols.
Better Understanding of a Process
Process maps are used to develop a better understanding of a process, to generate ideas for process improvement or stimulate discussion, build stronger communication, and — of
course — to document a process. Often times a process map will highlight problems and identify bottlenecks, duplication, delays, or gaps. Process maps can help to clarify process boundaries, process ownership, process responsibilities, and effectiveness measures or process metrics. Process maps can be very effective at increasing process understanding during training.
Process maps are not limited to a single department or function. For example, the ISO 9000 Quality Management Systems standard requires some type of process map of the organization’s quality processes. Mapping should be the first step in designing a process or in documenting a procedure. Why? Because, to improve a process you must understand it and most of us understand a graphical picture better than a written procedure. Process maps come in many different forms but they all tend to use a SIPOC format and a standard UML for symbols. The most common process map types include: High-Level Process Map, Process Flow Chart, Document Map, Cross Functional or Swim Lanes Process Map, Value Stream Map, Work Flow Diagram, and a Rendered Process Map. Over the next several weeks, we will take a closer look at each of these maps and see how they are used within an organization.
Seven Types of Process Maps
1. High-Level Process Map
A High-Level Process Map describes all of the core processes within an organization. For example, ISO 9001 requires that the sequence and interaction of the Quality Management System processes are determined. One way to demonstrate that processes are ―determined‖
is through a high-level process map.
Figure 3 shows nine core processes that make up the Order-To-Cash Cycle, their sequence and interaction, thus fulfilling the basic ISO 9001 requirement. The colour coded boxes show the three main process flows or cycles in your business:
; Red is your Order Cycle (Purchasing + Production < Sales);
; Blue is your Just-In-Time (JIT) Production Cycle (Shipping = Receiving + Production); and
; Green is your Cash Cycle (Inventory + A/R – Payables > 0); which taken together make up
your Order to Cash Cycle.
Inputs/outputs are labelled, information flows are indicated with a dotted line, and the material flow is a solid line (black for inventory and red indicating the primary material flow). If you need more detail, then each of the nine processes can further be explained separately in a lower-level process map. The term ―process map‖ does not refer to the
scope of a process being high-level, low-level, or very detailed. A process map is focused on the activity flow, order, or sequence and interaction.
Figure 3: High-level process maps show all core processes within an organization
Low-Level Process Map
The main difference between a high-level and low-level process map is one of scope. The process flow has not changed, just the scope of what we are looking at. The Order-To-Cash Cycle has nine processes identified but each process can be further subdivided into sub-processes. Each sub-process makes up a low-level process map or process flow chart. A low-level process map is an area of a high-level process map that we have zoomed into for more detail.
For example: the Accounts Receivable (A/R) Cycle is comprised of customer billing, credit, and collections. If we take a look at just the credit approval portion (Figure 4) of the whole A/R cycle we see that there are five main steps: sales call, order entry, credit check, review A/R balance, and calculate credit terms. There are three UML symbols used: square for process steps, diamond for decisions and an odd looking square with a curved bottom representing data. Decision diamonds produce an alternative flow that here represents either an ―OK‖ or ―Bad Credit‖ decision, which requires a new sales call to resolve.
Figure 4: Credit Approval Process Flow Chart
Low-level process maps can provide a lot of detail for analysis and can be used in place of textual procedures for simple processes. If you want to ―lean out‖ your documentation for
ISO 9001 then flowcharts can simplify your procedures and reduce unnecessary paperwork. Organizations with highly trained employees can benefit by using simple process maps.
One problem with low-level process maps is that sometimes it is hard to determine who is responsible for which activity. Another is that they may not conform very well to the SIPOC format we prefer. In this case a Cross Functional or ―Swim Lanes‖ Map can be used to
convey individual responsibilities or departmental roles within an organization. Cross Functional or “Swim Lanes” Map
Cross Functional process maps have the same UML flowchart symbols used in the low-level process map example. Only now, four cross functional swim lanes have been used to identify who is responsible for each element, decision or data. You can have any number of swim lanes in your map, although as a practical limit you may want to make it fewer than ten for clarity.
In Figure 5, the first band, the customer is clearly responsible for making a ―buying‖ decision
and must complete the credit form. The sales department is the second band and must respond to sales calls, receive the credit information (form), enter the order, and produce an order form. The order form is sent to the credit department, which compares the data to the credit criteria issued by management. If everything looks ―OK‖ then credit reviews the
customer’s existing A/R balances for credit capacity, and then calculates the credit terms. Management is responsible for preparing a ―credit issued‖ report and overseeing the credit approval process.
Figure 5: Credit Approval Swim Lanes Map
Swim lanes are really good at depicting responsibilities and with no loss in the low-level process flowchart information. Suppliers and customers are obvious and it does conform to our SIPOC format. Although, we still see alternative backflow present in the ―bad credit‖ decision. The problem with alternative flow is they can make it hard to follow the process. A better method would be to use ―single-piece‖ flow (the path a single product takes without
alternative flows) and eliminate alternative flows such as in a Document Map.
A Document Map is an expanded SIPOC format. Each row is an individual SIPOC flow representing the:
; Input (yellow)
; Process Step (light green)
; Output (blue)
Effectiveness criteria and performance objectives are listed at the bottom. Your effectiveness criteria represent your Key Performance Indicators (KPI), metrics, or measures for your process. If you are planning on continuous improvement (to conform to ISO 9001) then you should identify your metrics and your performance objectives.
We have also introduced PDCA or Plan, Do, Check, Act structure to the process steps:
; ―Plan‖ is performed as part of the prior ―Act‖ step where credit criteria are determined.
; ―Do‖ occurs when the sales person gets the order and starts entering it in the system,
credit checks are performed and terms calculated.
; ―Check‖ occurs when the credit issued is reviewed along with the credit criteria.
; And finally, ―Act‖ occurs when new credit criteria are issued.
Figure 6: Bizmanualz Credit Approval Document Map
Document maps provide a lot of data detail but can be short on activity details. Text based procedures are much better at depicting individual tasks and methods. But we can also use an Activity Map.
Activity Map or Value Stream Map
Activity maps or Value Stream Maps are used in lean implementations to depict process tasks as single-piece flow and with as much detail as you can capture. The whole purpose of an Activity Map is to capture enough information so that you can identify the tasks that are clearly adding value and those that are of questionable value. Activity maps are helpful for architecting and organizing the text before writing a new procedure.
Each of the five activities in the Credit Approval process (Figure 7.) is listed along the top row in light blue. Next, an optional tally field totals the number of tasks below each activity (i.e. 4+1). The first number represents the task total and the second number is the lean value-added (green tasks) total. Then the person or department responsible for the activity is listed with a departmental colour code. And finally, the detailed tasks are shown, one per box. Value-added tasks are colour coded green, clearly wasteful tasks are coded red, and all the white boxes represent possible waste, or steps that can be eliminated through lean process improvement events.
Figure 7: Value Stream Map - Activity Map
Activity maps provide sufficient details for process improvement and can also be augmented with task timing data, which can be used to quantify time and cost savings. All you need is a spreadsheet and you can start making activity maps. Unfortunately, activity maps are just OK at training or communicating how a process works. Work flow diagrams are much better for training workers and communicating processes.
Work Flow Diagram
Work flow diagrams translate abstract UML, or Unified Modelling Language, symbols of squares and diamonds into graphical images, which are used to tell a more complete story than engineering notation, communicates. Engineers are used to thinking conceptually and using symbols, but the workers in the field may need something less abstract and more concrete. Task-level communications require more clarity and work much better when we get closer to reality.
Drawing the credit approval process in a work flow diagram format (Figure 8) brings the process to life. Workers might see themselves in the work flow and may see how the process works. Microsoft Visio contains various work flow diagram images (including the examples shown here) that can be used for drawing more than just process maps.
Figure 8: Credit Approval Process Work Flow Diagram
Work flow diagrams are great as a basis for developing MS-PowerPoint training materials for workers and can be used in combination with other process map types to provide process information from different perspectives. This same map could be drawn using swim lanes to communicate responsibilities more clearly.
Work flow diagrams are more realistic than process flowcharts, but there might still be room for improvement. Is there a more realistic process map? Let’s look at a rendered process
Rendered Process Map
A rendered process map (Figure 9) is similar to a work flow diagram. It uses many of the same symbols to communicate process flows and activities, but it is not limited to just those symbols. Graphics, colours, and images can be combined to produce a more detailed and realistic map that everyone can relate to.
The ―material order request & receiving‖ process depicts an inventory storage location or warehouse that is not physically at or near the point of sale. Activities are labelled ―A‖
through ―I‖ and are described at the top of the map. Different process flows are colour coded:
green for customer approval within the purchasing sub-process, purple for distribution, grey
for order processing, and orange for inventory picking. The orange triangles symbolize time waste.
Figure 9: Material Order Request & Receiving Rendered Process Map
Each of the seven types of process maps serves a specific purpose and works really well in certain situations; some work better in certain situations than others. Which one(s) might work well in your company’s — or your department’s — situation? Can you see these types
of tools making your work life easier, and helping your company run more efficiently and effectively?
What Can – or Can’t – a Process Map Do?
A process is a structured set of activities that transforms inputs into outputs, but the way we
describe a process may vary dramatically, from a text-based procedure to different forms of process maps.
Process maps are used for various purposes, including, but not limited to:
; Developing process understanding;
; Process improvement and discussion;
; Documenting a process; and
; Training and communication.
A process map highlights actual and potential problems – bottlenecks, backflows, delays,
waste, and process gaps. Process maps clarify process boundaries, ownership, responsibilities, and effectiveness measures (metrics). Process maps are used in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), process improvement, and systems design. What Can’t a Process Map Do?
It can’t do the work for you. A process map does help you establish a shared understanding of what a process is and how it cuts across – links – business functions. The workers must
still do the work. However, process maps can be used for designing processes, writing procedures, defining and achieving objectives, complying with quality standards like ISO 9001, and building internal control.
All process maps are not created equal, however. The table below shows the purpose of each, as well as its positives and negatives:
Process Map Type Purpose Positives Negatives
High-Level Process Perspective, big-Management, Quality Manual, not enough details
Map or Flow Chart picture, Systems good for adding metrics
Low-Level Process Sub-processes, small-Understanding flow, procedures, unclear responsibilities, Not
Map or Flow Chart picture details SIPOC, alternative flow
Cross Functional or Responsibilities HR, job descriptions, job training, alternative flow
―Swim Lanes‖ Map procedures
Document Map or Data management Document and record control not enough activity detail
Activity Map or Value Process Improvement granular details good for work OK for training and
Stream Map instructions and procedure communications
Work Flow Diagram Training, More realistic great for training and
Rendered Process Training, Most realistic great for training and
Map communications communications
Most importantly, process mapping is about communicating your process to others, so you
can achieve your objectives.