What is Process Mapping


A process map is a planning and management tool that visually describes the flow of work. 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.

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Purpose of process mapping

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.

Understanding processes

One of the purposes of process mapping is to gain better understanding of a process. The flowchart below is a good example of using process mapping to understand and improve a process. In this chart, the process is making pasta. Even though this is a very simplified process map example, many parts of business use similar diagrams to understand processes and improve process efficiency, such as operations, finance, supply chain, sales, marketing and accounting.

Process Map Example

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 mapping symbols

Key elements of process mapping include actions, activity steps, decision points, functions, inputs/outputs, people involved, process measurements and time required. Basic symbols are used in a process map to describe key process elements. Each process element is represented by a specific symbol such as an arrow, circle, diamond, box, oval or rectangle. These symbols come from the Unified Modeling Language or UML, which is an international standard for drawing process maps.Example of Process Map Symbols

Business process mapping

In business, a process is a group of interrelated tasks that happen as a result of an event. These tasks produce a desired result for the customer. Process mapping can be used in many areas of business: business process improvement, business process redesign, reengineering, training, quality improvement, simulation, information technology, work measurement, documentation, process analysis, operational process design, process integration, acquisitions, mergers and selling business operations. Business process mapping can also be helpful for complying with manufacturing and service industry regulations, such as the common ISO 9000 (International Organization for Standardization) or ISO 9001.

How to create a process map

Process mapping has become streamlined because of software that provides a better understanding of processes. Process maps can be created in common programs like Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Excel, but there are other programs more customized to creating a process map. Process mapping is about communicating your process to others so that you achieve your management objectives. Knowing how to map a process will help you build stronger communication and understanding in your organization.

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 activities 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.​ Lucidchart makes it simple to create and rearrange shapes, add labels and comments and even use custom styling in your process map.

  • Ovals show the beginning of a process or the stopping of a process.
  • Rectangles show an operation or activity that needs to be done.
  • Arrows represent the flow of direction.
  • 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.
  • A parallelogram shows inputs or outputs.

Step 6: Finalize the process flowchart

  • Review the flowchart with others stakeholders (team member, workers, supervisors, suppliers, customers, etc.) for consensus.
  • 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?

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.