Process mapping and flow chart
Process mapping is a method used to visualise and understand the stages of a process within an organisation, for example using a flow chart.
What is process mapping used for?
- Process understanding: It helps to understand how processes work, who is involved, what documents and tools are used and how the different stages interact.
- Analysis and improvement: In this case, the focus is not only on mapping the process, but also on identifying bottlenecks, redundancies or unnecessary steps that can be eliminated or optimised. It helps to identify opportunities for improvement to make the process more efficient and effective.
- Training and communication: It serves as a reference for employee training and facilitates communication between the various stakeholders.
- Compliance and documentation: It helps to ensure compliance with standards and regulations by providing clear documentation of processes.
Types of process map
There are several types of process map, each with a specific level of detail, a specific objective and a particular representation (flow chart).
1. High-level mappingHigh-level mapping provides an overview of the key processes within an organisation or department. It does not delve into the details of individual steps, but rather provides an overall understanding of the main workflows and how they interact. The representation is a simplified flow chart.
- Use: Ideal for management presentations, initial employee training, high-level problem identification and high-level process communication.
2. Detailed flow chartThe detailed level flow chart goes further by detailing each step, decision, and interaction in a process. It is often used for process analysis and improvement.
- Use: Ideal for process analysis, detailed problem identification, and in-depth employee training.
3. SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, Customers)The SIPOC diagram is a type of mapping that identifies the Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, and Customers for a given process.
- Use: Ideal for understanding the inputs, outputs and stakeholders of a process, and for improving communication between teams.
4. Swim Lane (or cross-functional process map)Swim Lane mapping, also known as cross-functional process mapping, organises process steps into distinct "lanes" according to functions or departments. It illustrates the interactions between different functions and identifies transfer points. The representation is a flow diagram in which the stages are graphically grouped according to the stage managers: all the stages with the same manager are on the same line (hence the term "Swim lane").
- Use: Ideal for analysing interactions between different departments or functions, and for identifying areas for improvement in cross-functional workflows.
5. Value Stream MapThe Value Stream Map identifies the activities that add value to the process and those that do not. It aims to optimise processes by eliminating waste and improving the steps that add value.
- Use: Ideal for optimising processes, eliminating waste and improving efficiency and effectiveness.
How to create a process mapHere are the steps involved in process mapping.
1. Identify the objectiveClearly define the purpose of process mapping. This could be for process improvement, training, compliance, etc.
2. Select the processChoose the process you want to map. It may be an existing process or a new process that you want to develop. Some processes are complex and lengthy, and sometimes you only want to map part of the process. In this case, it is important to clearly define the beginning and end of this part.
3. Collect the informationIdentify the different techniques to be used, depending on the complexity of the process, the availability of stakeholders and the existence of documentation:
- Stakeholder interviews: Conduct individual or group interviews with the key stakeholders involved in the process to understand their role and obtain their perspective.
- Workshops: Organise workshops with stakeholders to discuss the process, identify stages, interactions and decision points.
- Direct observation: Observe the process in action to understand how it works in practice.
- Questionnaires and surveys: Distribute questionnaires or surveys to gather information about the process from a wide range of participants.
- Data analysis: Analyse existing data such as performance reports, process records, etc., to obtain information about the process.
4. Identify the stakeholdersIdentify the people or groups who are involved in the process or who are affected by it.
In practice, steps 3 and 4 are often carried out jointly or iteratively. Stakeholders can be identified by reading the information collected in step 3. And new data can be collected by making enquiries of stakeholders.
5. Choose a mapping formatSelect the type of process mapping that best suits your purpose (e.g. flow chart, SIPOC, Swim Lane, etc.).
The format is often pre-selected in the objective phase, and this stage serves to confirm it. It is not unusual for the format, or even the objective, to be adapted depending on the information gathered. For example, if the information gathered reveals that the main opportunities for improvement lie in clarifying inputs and outputs, it may be preferable to produce a SIPOC rather than a flow diagram.
6. Draw the process diagramStart at the beginning of the process and work through to the end, documenting each step, decision and interaction.
7. Document additional informationInclude any additional information that may help to understand the process, such as policies, procedures, instructions, etc.
8. Validate with stakeholdersShare the process map with stakeholders for feedback and ensure that the process is correctly represented.
Commonly used symbolsProcess mapping uses a variety of symbols to represent the different components and stages of a process. Here are some of the symbols most commonly used in process mapping, in particular flow charts:
These symbols may vary slightly depending on the specific standards used, but they are fairly standardised in the industry.
ToolsHere are some commonly used software and online tools for this task:
- Microsoft Visio: An industry-standard diagramming tool that offers robust functionality for process mapping.
- Lucidchart: An online platform for creating interactive and collaborative process flow charts.
- Bizagi: Provides solutions for process modelling, automation and optimisation.
- Signavio: A complete suite for process modelling, analysis and optimisation.
- io (now diagrams.net): A free online tool for drawing process flow charts and other diagrams.
- Promapp: Facilitates process mapping, management and improvement.
- SmartDraw: Provides templates and symbols for process mapping.
- Adonis: BPM (Business Process Management) software that helps with process modelling, analysis and optimisation.
- ProcessMaker: An open source BPM platform that helps organisations design, automate and deploy business processes.
Each of these tools has its own advantages and disadvantages. Selection will depend on the organisation's specific process mapping requirements, such as real-time collaboration, integration with other systems, ease of use, cost, etc.
Limits and risks of process mappingProcess mapping has certain limitations or risks:
- Increased complexity: Process mapping can become very complex, especially in large organisations with interdependent processes. This can make the diagrams difficult to understand and maintain.
- Resource Consumption: Creating and maintaining mappings can consume a lot of time and resources, especially if they are not well managed.
- Resistance to Change: Employees may resist process mapping if it is perceived as a threat to their autonomy or job security.
- Accuracy and Relevance: The information contained in mappings must be accurate and up-to-date to be useful. There is a risk that maps will become obsolete or inaccurate over time.
- Incorrect interpretation: Incorrect interpretation of diagrams can lead to erroneous decisions, which can adversely affect operations.
- Dependency on Tools: Over-reliance on mapping software can limit in-depth understanding of processes and creativity in problem solving.
- Confidentiality and Security: Sensitive information can be exposed if process maps are not properly secured.
- Cost: The purchase of specialist software and staff training can incur significant costs.
- Over-simplification: There is a risk of over-simplification where critical elements of the process may be omitted, leading to an inaccurate understanding of the process.
- Inadequate Implementation: Process mapping is only useful if it is well implemented and used to continuously improve processes.
By considering these limitations and risks, you can take steps to ensure that process mapping is carried out effectively and securely.
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