How to Make a Process Map

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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Make a Process Map

Why use a process map?

Creating a process map helps organize processes and makes information visible to everyone. By creating a process map or flowchart, you are producing a visual example of the process to better understand it and see areas for improvement. The act of flowcharting to improve a process was first introduced in 1921 by Frank Gilbreth to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Process mapping example

Preparing for process mapping

It’s important to include everyone involved in the process: workers, suppliers, customers and supervisors. Everyone involved needs to clearly understand what the goals of the process are, agree with deadlines and have some knowledge of basic process mapping. You can create a flowchart by hand or in a software program like Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Visio or Microsoft PowerPoint; however, there are other software programs specifically built for creating a process flowchart. Using a process mapping software, especially a cloud-based software like Lucidchart, makes it easy to create, save and share your work. Following these basic steps to creating process maps will make them easier to build and to understand.

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.

Common Process Map Symbols

  • 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.