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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.
What is a Process?
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 Modeling 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 Process Understanding
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. Next week: Read Types of Process Maps….
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