In a past blog post, we broke down the different types of process improvement methodologies and the diagrams you might use to follow any of these methods. Now we want to take a deep dive into one of the most-used techniques we discussed: Six Sigma process mapping.
Learn what a process map is, how it fits into the Six Sigma methodology, and how you can easily build one. (Stick around and you’ll even find a Six Sigma process map example.)
How process mapping works for Six Sigma
As a reminder, Six Sigma originated in 1986 as a data-driven approach used for increasing the quality of products and services by eliminating defects from any process. Companies using Six Sigma aim for 99.99966% of their products (we know, it’s pretty specific) to be free of defects.
To achieve this goal, companies need to follow five steps outlined as DMAIC:
- Define the problem, area for improvement, or customer requirements.
- Measure performance of the current process.
- Analyze the process to determine the root cause of defects or inefficiencies.
- Improve performance by eliminating the root cause.
- Control the improved process to ensure high performance.
Process mapping enters at the very first stage. Anyone involved with optimizing processes or eliminating defects needs to first define the process and understand it completely. A Six Sigma process map outlines the process graphically step by step to make understanding faster and easier.
How process maps benefit your company
You already have a lot of work ahead of you as you cut waste from your company’s operations—why dedicate resources to create a flowchart showing your whole process? Because Six Sigma process mapping can actually save you time through these benefits:
See the entire process in one view. Visualizations make abstract concepts, including your process, tangible so people can grasp ideas faster. Instead of literally walking through the process or reading explanations of individual steps to gain understanding, you can see the whole process at one time on a process map.
Detect waste faster. By visualizing the process, you can more easily pinpoint areas that do not add value or that lower efficiency. And as we’ll discuss later, you can also build a map of your ideal process and compare the two systems side by side.
Deliver on promised expectations. The Six Sigma process comes down to quality. You want to eliminate defects so your customers receive exactly the products and services they expect to receive when they expect to receive them. Six Sigma process mapping forces you to see your process as it really happens so you can see where you may fall short of those expectations.
Store for future reference and training. You can even use this process map once you’ve found and corrected defects. Train new hires or send the improved process around your office so everyone remembers the correct protocol.
Types of process maps in Six Sigma
As you recreate your process visually, you can select from the two types of process maps in Six Sigma. See the definition and an example for each type.
Process flowcharts show the sequence of activities, along with any decision points, that occur to complete the process. Some process flowcharts—known as alternate path flowcharts—provide more options as you go through the process.
Deployment flowcharts show the roles of different departments or individuals involved in the process. These flowcharts use swim lanes to divide responsibility and show how and when groups work together to complete the process.Use as a template
How to build your Six Sigma process map
Now that you have some options in front of you, it’s time to understand your process and build one of these flowcharts. Let’s walk through the process of Six Sigma process mapping.
Note: Remember that you don’t have to create your process map by hand! As you consider Six Sigma process mapping tools, try out Lucidchart. Our intuitive tool takes the complication out of diagramming and increases collaboration across your team. If you don’t have an account already, take a second to register for free.
1. Determine context and scope.
Which process or part of a process do you need to review? What do you want to accomplish with this process map? Once you understand how you want the process map to help you, you can choose a flowchart type and decide how much detail the process map should cover.
2. Identify and sequence the steps of your as-is process.
With the purpose and scope of your Six Sigma process map in mind, set the start and end points of your process. Then add other shapes to represent process steps, inputs, outputs, transportation of materials, etc. Use this guide to select the right shape:
3. Ask others to review the map for accuracy.
Send your Six Sigma process map to people from different teams to make sure that all your information is accurate. And if you’ve been using Lucidchart, you can share your document and allow people to edit or comment on your visualized process in real time.
You could even walk through the process yourself, with your process map in tow, to see whether you covered every step. In Lucidchart, just print out your document or download our iOS or Android app to carry your process map with you.
4. Analyze the process map and single out pain points.
So you have an accurate visualization of your process. Great! Now you can refer to this document as you ask questions about the process. Are there steps you can remove or combine? Do you see any redundancies? If you have delays throughout the process, why are they happening? Keep asking yourself why the process functions the way it does. Make notes on or edit your process map to track the changes you want to see.
Optional: Create a new process map with your ideal state.
Six Sigma process mapping can help you beyond visualizing your current process—you can also use this practice to map out your process as you would like it to be. With this ideal process in hand, you can compare the two diagrams and determine how to move your as-is process closer to the ideal one. In Lucidchart, you can even use hotspots and layers to show different states of your process and toggle between them.
And there you have it! As promised, we have a Six Sigma process map example for a baking dealing with a bulk order. If you have a Lucidchart account, you can turn this example into a template and start your own process map right away.
We know visual thinking can reduce defects and ensure that you deliver quality in every process—try out the tips above and see for yourself. (P.S. If you want to see more use cases for process mapping, check out Dave Grow’s post about our sales process map at Lucid Software.)