A brief intro to process mapping

Nette France
Product Strategist

LinkedIn Profile

Process mapping has become a staple business tool since it first emerged in America during the 1920’s and 30’s. Like all methodologies, tools, and techniques, there is an endless supply of variations and approaches. Many of us would have first been introduced to the concept of ‘process mapping’ at school – usually a process flow drawn out by hand or pieced together on PowerPoint.  

If you’re in the workforce today, chances are you’ve seen lots of ‘process maps’ that all look quite different. Sometimes they’re simple to follow, and sometimes you can’t tell start from end. So, what are process maps? Why are they used? And how do I make one that makes sense?  

This blog will answer some of those key questions and offer a few useful tips on what to do and what not to do when process mapping.  

What is process mapping?
Process mapping is the technique of using visual flowcharts, which often distinguish between steps and decisions, to illustrate a business process from one point to another. It may represent a business process from start to end, or it may only capture one part of a wider, longer process. If there are multiple roles in the process, the diagram should also indicate who is responsible for each step. The most common technique to do this is the use of swim lanes. Other alternatives include colour-coding, labels, legends, or shapes.  

Why are process maps used?
Process maps are one of the many tools that help businesses capture what they do. Like standard operating procedures and work instructions, process maps are often used for onboarding and training. Where they have grown in popularity is in their ability to underpin business analysis. With everything mapped out in front of you, process maps provide a canvas for identifying weaknesses, gaps, duplications, and opportunities for improvement.  

What makes a good process map?
Put simply, a good process map is one that makes sense. That might sound straightforward, but you'd be surprised by how many process maps fail at this. The primary pitfall is overcomplicating your flow. If it's a lengthy process with lots of steps, would it be better split into multiple diagrams? There are lots of systems that will let you link processes together and group them in end-to-end diagrams.  

Roles and responsibilities
When looking at a process map, you should be able to distinguish who is responsible for actioning each step. This will give you a good understanding of what you are required to do, and who you need to interact with. For large organisations with multiple departments and management lines, this is especially important.  

There are lots of different things you can use process maps for. Whether you're a trained Business Analyst, or a business owner looking to pass an upcoming audit, process maps are a great way to mature your business. Remember, just because something makes sense to you doesn't mean it will make sense to everyone else. When creating a process map, think of your audience and ask yourself “will this make sense, and will it be useful?”. 

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