What is a Process Mapping in Six Sigma? Complete guide for 2024

What is a process mapping

Process mapping plays a significant role in Six Sigma or any improvement project. It is actually the process planning and management tool used in all types of organizations in order to understand the flow of work visually.

This tool helps the project team in understanding the details of the process, like who is involved in the process? how many important steps are there in the entire process? what are the different improvement areas of the process? etc. So overall this powerful tool provides a complete visual overview of the process.

In this article, we will understand process mapping in detail its benefits, different types of maps, step-by-step creation of maps, along with different symbols used in maps. So in the end you will be in a position to create a process map easily at your workplace. Let’s start…


What is process mapping?

Humans are visual creatures therefore representing information in a visual way helps to understand, manage and improve processes. The process is nothing but a repetitive and systematic series of steps or activities where inputs are converted into value-added output.

Examples of processes like changing a car tire, manufacturing a car, opening a bank account, refining oil, etc. On the other hand, the process map is simply a diagram that represents a flow of activity that takes a product or service from state X to state Y i.e. input to output.

It is also called flowcharting, a technique to visualize the tasks, activities, and steps necessary to produce a product or service. This method identifies the process with a generic name and shows the workflow with mapping, and describes its purpose with an operational definition.

process map

Eg- a car manufacturing company turns raw materials into the final car. So every process is a blending of inputs to produce some desired outputs. The purpose of each task, step, or activity in the process is to add value defined by the customers, to the service or product we are producing.

The individual process steps are linked together to see the total effort and flow for meeting business and customer needs. In order to improve or correctly manage each process step and see what value each step is creating, it is important to describe the process in a way that can be easily understood.

That is where the process mapping comes into the picture. It provides insights into the process and helps the project team figure out ideas for process improvement. It helps identify the complexity of the process, define ownership of the process, and who is responsible for particular process steps. 

Process mapping helps visually communicate all the important details of the process to all the people who are working close to the process. And helping them produce necessary data that can be useful for improving the process as well as for problem-solving.

So overall process mapping is the most important and powerful tool which can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the process in the long term.


Why process map is important?

Let’s see some of the reasons why process mapping is important – 

  • It describes how activities are performed and how the work effort flows. It is a visual way of standing above the process and watching how work is done. It can be easily uploaded into the simulation software allowing you to simulate the process and visually see how the process works.
  • It helps all the process members understand their part in the process and how their process fits into the bigger picture.
  • It will show you where you can take measurements that will help you to run the process better and also be used as an aid in training new people.
  • It will help you understand where the problems occur in the process and what some of the causes may be. It provides a source of data and inputs to other problem-solving tools.
  • Process mapping identifies many important characteristics of the process, that help process members to work on problem-solving easily as well as improve processes fastly.
  • Overall it helps process members to gain a better understanding of the process by showing the entire process broken into small steps by using different mapping symbols that are easy to follow.


Process mapping symbols – 

Generally, all the steps or elements in the process map are represented using symbols that are easy to understand for all process members. These symbols are also called flowcharting symbols which make the visual presentation of the process map easy to understand.

These symbols are used in all types of industries to create process maps because they follow the international standard for drawing process maps. Let’s see some of the important process mapping symbols below – 

process mapping symbols

Reference – Lean methods


Types of process mapping – 

Generally, there are 4 types of process map that all industries uses i.e. Linear map, Swim lane map, SIPOC map, Value stream map, etc. Before understanding these 4 types of maps let’s understand first the three levels of process maps. Levels 1, 2, and 3 maps, these levels are useful as per the requirements and application.

Level 1 process map – 

A level 1 map is also called a management level map or high-level process map. It will help you to better see which major step of the process is most likely related to the problem you have and it will put the various processes that you are associated with in the context of the larger whole.

So basically level 1 process map provides a big picture of the entire process, which has minimum details with only major process steps.

Level 2 process map – 

A level 2 map is called a worker level map because it identifies the major process steps from the worker’s point of view. It provides more details about major process steps than the level 1 process map. It also helps you to see and understand how work gets done, and who does it.

Level 3 process map – 

A level 3 process map is also called an improvement level map because it provides micro details of the process from an improvement point of view. Similar to the level 2 process map, this map also shows more steps and tasks along with different performance data like yield, cycle time, defects, etc.


Overall, the level 1 process map (Macro map) contains the least level of details, with increasing details you can use level 2 and 3 maps. You should think of and use the level of process maps in a way similar to the way you would use road maps. 

For example – If you want to find a country, you use a world map. If you want to find a city in that country then you use a country map. If you want to find a particular street address in the city, you use a city map. This is a general approach to using different levels of process mapping.

Now let’s see 4 important types of process mapping – 


Types of process map


1) Linear flow process map – 

The linear flow process map is the most traditional way to map any process and it is also the start of the process mapping effort. It shows the process steps in a sequential flow, generally ordered from the upper left corner of the map towards the right.

You can use this process map at the initial level like while planning new projects, helping the team communicate new ideas, documenting processes for the first time, etc.

2) Swim lane process map – 

The Swim lane process map adds another dimension of knowledge to the picture of the process shown by the traditional linear map. It shows you who or which department is responsible for the steps in a process. This map provides powerful insights in the way a process performs.

Also, a timeline can be added to show how long it takes each group to perform their work or tasks. Each time work moves across a swim lane, there is supplier-customer interaction.

This map is also called a cross-functional process map because it defines the connection between different process steps and key roles who are taking part in the process and their relation with each other.

3) SIPOC map – 

SIPOC diagram represents information about suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers. It is especially useful after the level 1 or level 2 map because it facilitates your gathering of other pertinent data that is affecting the process in a systematic way.

It provides you a complete overview of the process and helps you better understand all of the influences affecting the behavior and performance of the process.

It falls into the level 3 category of process mapping because it provides more details about the process and identifies improvement opportunities. (Check out – What is SIPOC diagram? Understand with example)

4) Value stream map – 

A value stream map is a specialized map used to analyze, design, and manage the flow of materials and information required to bring a product to a customer. This basically helps you identify value added and non-value added activities i.e waste in the product delivery process.

This detailed process map helps you understand numerous performance metrics associated primarily with the speed of the process and also provides you with a lot of detailed performance data for the major steps of the process.

How to create a process map?

As you know process mapping is more about communicating the entire process in a visual format to all the people who are working close to the process, so that they can improve the process and achieve organizational objectives.

It is important to create an effective process map that builds stronger communication and understanding in the organization about the process. Now let’s see step by step how to create a process map – 


Step – 1: Identify the problem or process to map

Initially, determine the process that you want to map out. Identify which process has a problem? which process needs improvement? which process is complex to understand for employees, they have questions regarding that process?

Once you identified the problem and process the next is to figure out which type of process map is useful there. We have the 4 types of process maps right! decide which map is useful in the given situation.

For example – if your customers/suppliers want to visually understand the complete journey of the product from 1st step to the last step, then in that case you can use a value stream map to draw a complete overview of the process. 

That’s how you should start with the identification of the problem and the process and then to select the right type of process map. This is the 1st step in creating an effective process map.


Step – 2: Form a team 

After identifying the process that has a problem, the next step is to find out who is working close to the process and from all of them, figure out who needs to be involved in creating an effective process map. It is not necessary to include all the people working close to the process in the process mapping activity.

We actually need to include managers and team members who are working on the process improvement project. This step is all about forming a team of all the important people who can contribute to planning and creating process mapping activities. 


Step – 3: List all the activities involved in the process

Once the team is formed the next step is to list down all the activities involved in the process or we can say document all the process steps in detail that are required to complete the entire process. See at this step, you just required the process steps details,  not necessary to list down the process steps in an ordered manner.

To get these details you should collaborate with team members and managers who are part of a team and perform brainstorming sessions with all the team members.

This will help you find out all the necessary details that the process involves like who is responsible for a particular process step? How much time is required to complete that step? what level of detail is needed? etc.

After listing all the process steps details, make sure you should highlight the starting point and end point of the process which means the first process step and the last, this will make your mapping work easy.


Step – 4: Organize all the process steps in sequence order

In this step, you need to organize all the process steps in sequence order. You already have all the process steps details, arrange all those steps in the proper sequence from beginning to end. This step will help you determine the boundaries of the process means when and where does the process start? when and where does the process stop?

This step will provide you with a complete overview of how the process flows from beginning to end? and also help you check the gaps involved in the process steps.


Step – 5: Draw a basic flowchart using the process mapping symbols

In this step, you should draw a basic flowchart using different mapping symbols. You have all the important information available that is needed to create an effective process map. At this step convert that information into visual form using 30+ different flowcharting symbols.

Select the right mapping format, then draw and represent all the process steps in detail with the help of flowcharting symbols. We already discussed the important symbols earlier in this article, those symbols you need to use in this step. This step makes a visual picture of the process ready i.e. process map.


Step – 6: Review the basic flowchart/process map

Once you draw the map using symbols, the next step is to review that basic flowchart/process map with team members, workers, suppliers, and managers, or we can say review with all the stakeholders involved in the process. After the review, share that final process map with all the stakeholders.

This review is important in order to make sure that all the stakeholders understand the process map easily and agree with how the process is mapped. As a practitioner, you should make sure that no process steps are missed and also no unnecessary steps have been added to the process map.


Step – 7: Use the final process map as a guide

Once the final process map is ready, you can use that map to discover the improvement opportunities in the process. Once you have identified the improvement opportunities, take action to improve the process and update the process map to reflect the improvements.

You can also use that map as a guide to test your new process and monitor its success. This visual overview of the process helps you design new processes as well as improve the existing processes.

That’s how with the help of collaboration with team members and using these 7 steps you can create a process map at your workplace.

That map will provide you with a lot of process-related valuable insights and help you in process improvement projects. (Check out – Best software for creating a process map)


Important tips for creating a process map – 

We understood how to create a process map step by step now let’s have a quick look at some of the important tips that you need to follow as a practitioner or business manager for creating an effective process map. – 

1. Must know the proper use of process mapping symbols –

There are more than 25 symbols that are used for representing all the elements of the process map like process steps, decision points, workflow, etc. As a practitioner, you should learn the use of these symbols and know how to use them while drawing a process map effectively.

2. Make sure you should define the beginning and end of the process clearly – 

As a practitioner, while creating a process map you should define clearly the starting point of the process and the ending point of the process. Knowing where to start and end the process gives you a clear direction to the process mapping efforts.

3. Start with a high-level overview of the process – 

Initially, you should start with mapping a high-level process map or level 1 process map (add major details) to simplify the entire process and then focus on collecting more data/details about the process. After that slowly start adding those details to the map and draw a level-2 and level -3 process map (add minor details).

4. Properly manage the process details – 

You should focus on keeping the important process details on the map and try to remove any unnecessary details that are not needed in the process map. Because too many details/data in the process map may create confusion and difficulty in understanding the process map. So don’t make the process map too complex, keep it clear and simple.

5. Get feedback from time to time –

Make sure you should get feedback from time to time on the process map from all the people who are working close to the process. Interact with them, interview them, and listen to them carefully. By doing this you are making everyone feel valued.

Feedback from these people gives you more details about the process which can be useful in making great improvements in the process. So don’t ignore the feedback, use that feedback to create a process map more accurately and effectively.


Conclusion – 

Process mapping is not only just process documentation but also a powerful tool for process improvement. It is an effective tool for improving operational efficiency and offers a huge amount of benefits to the organization.

Overall process mapping provides a visual overview of the entire process that can help the people who are working close to the process, understand easily what’s happening in the process and it becomes easy for them to improve processes.

In this article, we discussed process mapping in detail along with different types of process maps, how to create a process map step by step, important tips for creating a process map, etc.

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