What is an process map and how to create one

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Process mapping is used to visually demonstrate all the steps and decisions in a particular process. A process map or flowchart describes the flow of materials and information, displays the tasks associated with a process, shows the decisions that need to be made along the chain and shows the essential relationships between the process steps.

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What is a process map?

A process map is a planning and management tool that visually describes the flow of work. Using process mapping software, process maps show a series of events that produce an end result. A process map is also called a flowchart, process flowchart, process chart, functional process chart, functional flowchart, process model, workflow diagram, business flow diagram or process flow diagram. It shows who and what is involved in a process and can be used in any business or organization and can reveal areas where a process should be improved.

The purpose of process mapping is for organizations and businesses to improve efficiency. Process maps provide insight into a process, help teams brainstorm ideas for process improvement, increase communication and provide process documentation. Process mapping will identify bottlenecks, repetition and delays. They help to define process boundaries, process ownership, process responsibilities and effectiveness measures or process metrics.

Benefits of process mapping

Process mapping spotlights waste, streamlines work processes and builds understanding. Process mapping allows you to visually communicate the important details of a process rather than writing extensive directions.

Flowcharts and process maps are used to:

  • Increase understanding of a process
  • Analyze how a process could be improved
  • Show others how a process is done
  • Improve communication between individuals engaged in the same process
  • Provide process documentation
  • Plan projects

Process maps can save time and simplify projects because they:

  • Create and speed up the project design
  • Provide effective visual communication of ideas, information and data
  • Help with problem solving and decision making
  • Identify problems and possible solutions
  • Can be built quickly and economically
  • Show processes broken down into steps and use symbols that are easy to follow
  • Show detailed connections and sequences
  • Show an entire process from the beginning to the end

Process maps help you to understand the important characteristics of a process, allowing you to produce helpful data to use in problem solving. Process maps let you strategically ask important questions that help you improve any process.

Types of process mapping

Process mapping is about communicating your process to others. You can build stronger understanding with process maps. The most common process map types include:

  • Activity Process Map: represents value added and non-value added activities in a process
  • Detailed Process Map: provides a much more detailed look at each step in the process
  • Document Map: documents are the inputs and outputs in a process
  • High-Level Process Map: high-level representation of a process involving interactions between Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer (SIPOC)
  • Rendered Process Map: represents current state and/or future state processes to show areas for process improvement
  • Swimlane (or Cross-functional) Map: separates out the sub-process responsibilities in the process
  • Value-Added Chain Diagram: unconnected boxes that represent a very simplified version of a process for quick understanding
  • Value Stream Map: a lean-management technique that analyzes and improves processes needed to make a product or provide a service to a customer.
  • Work Flow Diagram: a work process shown in “flow” format; doesn’t utilize Unified Modeling Language (UML) symbols.

Process map symbols

Each element in a process map is represented by a specific symbol. Process symbols are also commonly called flowchart symbols, flowchart shapes or flow diagram symbols. These symbols come from the Unified Modeling Language or UML, which is an international standard for drawing process maps. These process symbols can be put in the following categories: process/operation symbols, branching and control of flow symbols, input and output symbols, file and information storage symbols and data processing symbols.

Process & operation symbols


The most frequently used flowchart shape shows an action, task or operation that needs to be done.


Shows a series of actions related to a task, which itself is part of a larger process. It could also mean that there is already a flowchart for the larger process that can be used as a reference.

Alternate ProcessAn alternative to the regular process step. Lines connecting with the alternate process symbol are usually dashed.
DelayRepresents a waiting period or delay in the process.
PreparationA preparatory step that sets up another step in the process.
Manual LoopA sequence of commands that continually repeats until stopped manually.
Loop LimitThe point at which a loop stops.

Branching & control of flow symbols

ArrowThe arrows indicate the direction in which the flowchart should be read (usually from the top to the bottom and/or the left to the right).
TerminatorRepresents the entry and exit points of your flowchart. Usually a flowchart has only one starting point but can have several ending points.
DecisionThe point at which a decision needs to be made. The arrows flowing from the decision shape are usually labeled with yes, no, true or false.


ConnectorIn order to connect to different page or section of the chart, and you can't draw a line, you can use a circle labeled with a letter. Put another circle with the same letter where the flow continues.
Off-page Connector

Indicates the process continues off page. A letter or page number in the shape tells you where to go.

MergeA step where two or more sub-processes merge together and become one.
ExtractShows when a process divides into different but parallel directions.
OrRepresents when a process diverges, usually for more than two branches.
Summoning or JunctionWhen multiple sub-processes merge into a single process.

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Input & output symbols

Input/Output or DataRepresents material or information entering or leaving the process. Receiving a report is an input. Generating a report is an output.
DocumentIndicates a process step that generates a document or report.
Multiple DocumentsA process step that produces multiple documents or reports.
DisplayA step that displays information to a person.
Manual InputRepresents a step where a user must input information manually.

File & information storage symbols

Stored Data SymbolRepresents a step in the process where data gets stored.
Database SymbolA list of information with a standard structure that allows for searching and sorting.
Direct Access Storage SymbolRepresents a hard drive.
Internal Storage SymbolUsed in programming to represent information stored in memory instead of on a file.

Data processing symbols

Collate SymbolRepresents a process that organizes data or materials into a standard format.
Sort SymbolIndicates the sorting of data, information, and materials into a pre-determined order.

Steps to creating a process map

  • Step 1: Identify the problem:
    • What is the process that needs to be visualized? Type its title at the top of the document.
  • Step 2: Brainstorm all the activities that will be involved:
    • At this point, sequencing the steps isn’t important, but it may help you to remember the steps needed for your process. Decide what level of detail to include. Determine who does what and when it is done.
  • Step 3: Figure out boundaries:
    • Where or when does the process start?
    • Where or when does the process stop?
  • Step 4: Determine and sequence the steps:
    • It’s helpful to have a verb begin the description. You can show either the general flow or every detailed action or decision.
  • Step 5: Draw basic flowchart symbols:
    • Each element in a process map is represented by a specific flowchart symbol, which together represent process mapping symbols:  
      • Ovals show the beginning or the ending of a process.
      • Rectangles show an operation or activity that needs to be done.
      • Arrows represent the direction of flow.
      • Diamonds show a point where a decision must be made. Arrows coming out of a diamond are usually labeled yes or no. Only one arrow comes out of an activity box. If more than is needed, you should probably use a decision diamond.
      • Parallelograms show inputs or outputs.
  • Step 6: Finalize the process flowchart
    • Review the flowchart with other stakeholders (team member, workers, supervisors, suppliers, customers, etc.) to make sure everyone is in agreement.
    • Make sure you’ve included important chart information like a title and date, which will make it easy to reference.
    • Helpful questions to ask:
      • Is the process being run how it should?
      • Will team members follow the charted process?
      • Is everyone in agreement with the process map flow?
      • Is anything redundant?
      • Are any steps missing?

Numbering conventions

To help with process map organization, you can number the process maps and process steps. Here's a process mapping numbering convention example:

  • Process 1
    • Sub-process 1.1
      • Sub-process 1.1.1
      • Sub-process 1.1.2
      • Sub-process 1.1.3
    • Sub-process 1.2
      • Sub-process 1.2.1
      • Sub-process 1.2.2
  • Process 2
    • Sub-process 2.1
      • Sub-process 2.1.1
      • Sub-process 2.1.2
  • Process 3
    • Sub-process 3.1
      • Sub-process 3.1.1
      • Sub-process 3.1.2
    • Sub-process 3.2
      • Sub-process 3.2.1

Process maps provide valuable insights into how a businesses or an organization can improve processes. When important information is presented visually, it increases understanding and collaboration for any project.

Process map templates and examples

Business process map template

As your business begins to grow, it's important that everyone on your team understands current best practices and follows the same business process model to uphold consistency. When you sign up for our process mapping software, you can customize this business process map template with your own specific steps and share it with your staff.

Detailed process map template

While the high-level process map shares broader objectives in a process, a detailed process map can show each technical step required in a process flow. This is your deep dive into the process. Use this detailed process map template and customize it with your own steps to better analyze and understand every aspect of a specific process.

IT process map template

Want to know how to fulfill IT requests most efficiently? Start with this IT process map template and update the lanes with teams or individuals involved in your process. Update the shapes and actions based on the processes you run, and you'll have created a clear visual that your entire company can follow.


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