SIPOC or reverse SIPOC? What, why and how
The SIPOC (Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer) is a widely used type of process mapping in quality management and continuous improvement.
SIPOC is an acronym that stands for:
- S: Suppliers. These are the entities that provide the necessary resources for the process. It could be another department, a team, an external organization, etc.
- I: Inputs. The resources, materials, information, or other elements needed to perform the process.
- P: Process. This is a series of activities or steps carried out to achieve a result. In a SIPOC, the process is often represented in a very concise manner, for example, in 5 to 7 main steps.
- O: Outputs. These are the products, services, information, or other elements generated by the process. They are the direct results of the process.
- C: Customers. These are the entities or individuals who receive or use the outputs of the process.
What is the purpose of SIPOC?
SIPOC is a visualization tool that provides a high-level overview. It is particularly useful in contexts where a clear, concise, and holistic understanding of a process is needed. Here are the cases for which SIPOC is appropriate:
- Initiating an improvement project: At the beginning of an improvement project, SIPOC helps define and clarify the scope of the process in question. It provides an overview that helps align the team on what is and is not included in the process under study.
- Facilitating communication: If different stakeholders (such as management, frontline employees, and customers) need to understand a process and its stakeholders, SIPOC can serve as a common reference point to facilitate discussions.
- Training: For new employees or those introduced to an unfamiliar process, SIPOC can serve as a training tool to provide an overview of the process.
- Clarifying roles and responsibilities: By identifying suppliers and customers for each input and output, SIPOC can help clarify who is responsible for what in a process.
- Preparing for more detailed analyses: Before diving into detailed analyses, such as Value Stream Mapping or root cause analysis, SIPOC can help establish a solid foundation.
- Identifying customers and their needs: By focusing on outputs and customers, SIPOC aligns well with approaches to analyzing customer needs satisfaction.
Difference between SIPOC and other process mapping types
SIPOC emphasizes the inputs and outputs of a process, as well as the associated suppliers and customers. The process itself is often represented very concisely, sometimes in only a few main steps.
Other representations like flowcharts or Value Stream Mapping (VSM) have different focuses. Flowcharts detail each step and activity of a process, the decisions that need to be made, and how steps are connected, including feedback loops. VSM focuses on value-added and non-value-added aspects throughout the process, capturing the entire value flow, including information flow, wait times, inventory, and other key metrics.
COPIS or reverse SIPOC
COPIS stands for Customers, Outputs, Process, Inputs, and Suppliers, which is the reverse SIPOC. While SIPOC starts with suppliers and ends with customers, COPIS starts with customers and ends with suppliers.
COPIS places the customer at the beginning, emphasizing customer needs and expectations. It encourages starting with the customer, aligning with the idea that processes should be designed to meet customer needs.
When to use COPIS or SIPOC
SIPOC is useful when you are trying to understand an existing process, starting from available resources (suppliers and inputs) to delivery to the customer. It is often used in situations where documenting or standardizing a current process is sought.
COPIS is particularly useful when designing or redefining a process because it forces you to begin with the customer's needs. This can help ensure that the process is customer-centric. If you are looking to innovate or completely rethink a process, COPIS can be an excellent tool for taking a customer-oriented perspective.
How to create a SIPOC
The general process mapping method applies but with specific considerations. The general steps are:
- Identify the mapping objective.
- Select the process.
- Collect information.
- Identify stakeholders.
- Choose the mapping format.
- Draw the process diagram.
- Document additional information.
- Validate with stakeholders.
As we are dealing with SIPOC, steps 1 (objective focused on suppliers, customers, inputs, and outputs of the process) and 5 (format selection) are already completed. As indicated in the general method, format selection is typically predetermined in step 1, and step 5 is a confirmation. However, it can also be decided during step 3 of information collection if it becomes apparent that clarification or improvement regarding suppliers, customers, inputs, or outputs is important.
In the case of SIPOC, the main difference from the general case is in step 3 of information collection:
- More detailed research on suppliers, customers, inputs, and outputs.
- Less detailed collection of activities and their precise sequence. However, one of the challenges is to identify the right level of detail to avoid errors and to understand at which level inputs and outputs are situated.
Of course, step 5, the "drawing" of the process, is specific. Here again, the challenge is to achieve the appropriate level of detail, especially when there is a significant amount of information (inputs/outputs) with numerous suppliers or customers.
Examples illustrating the difference between the SIPOC and the flow diagramHere are two real examples of how the same process (Order - Delivery - Invoicing) is represented within a company.
We can observe that:
- The flowchart details all the steps of the process and their sequence, while inputs/outputs are not explicitly mentioned (except implicitly in the labels of the steps/activities).
- SIPOC details inputs, outputs, suppliers, and customers, while the process is summarized in only 5 steps (compared to 29 for the flowchart).
This example can also be easily generalized. Indeed, it is common to create both types of representations because they complement each other well.
Difficulties or risks in creating a SIPOC
SIPOC is a valuable tool for understanding a process at a high level, but there are difficulties and potential risks associated with its development and use:
- Too much detail: SIPOC is designed to be a high-level tool. A common mistake is trying to include too much detail, which can make it cluttered and less effective as a communication tool.
- Unverified assumptions: If the information used to complete SIPOC is not validated with those who truly understand the process, it can lead to inaccuracies.
- Stakeholder resistance: In some organizations, there may be resistance to formalizing or documenting processes, often due to fear of change or criticism.
- Process evolution: Processes can evolve and change over time. A SIPOC that is not regularly updated can quickly become obsolete.
- Inappropriate use: If SIPOC is misused, such as being used as a detailed process analysis tool rather than an overview, it can lead to ill-informed decisions.
- Conflicts among stakeholders: During SIPOC development, disagreements may arise regarding certain process steps, inputs, outputs, etc. If these conflicts are not resolved, they can hinder the finalization and acceptance of SIPOC.
- Excessive dependence: Although SIPOC is a useful tool, it should not be the only tool used to understand or improve a process. Excessive reliance on SIPOC at the expense of other analysis tools can limit the understanding of a process.
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