Why UPN Is Best for Process Improvement Methodologies

What UPN is has been covered in our blog in the past, but here’s a quick refresher before we dive deeper into this article.

UPN stands for Universal Process Notation and it is the simplest way of mapping business processes visually. By creating simple flows and diagrams, everyone in the company can understand how different aspects of the business works. It is best used in cases of training, audits, new software implementations, and organisational design, but it can also be used in other ways. 

In this article, we will learn why it is UPN above all other process improvement methodologies that you should be using. 

What’s Broken About Process Improvement Methodologies?

There is a big problem in process improvement methodologies at the moment. 

Most of them rely on paper, pens and post-it notes – even those built in a virtual space. 

When you are using process mapping post it notes, you will end up losing information whenever you switch your process or methodology. Or, it will change to a different format but the previous processes do not translate over well and you lose important information.

You’re essentially playing a game of broken telephone without realising it, and it is costing you your business’ organization and history.

And you don’t want that.

There are many different process improvement methodologies, a few of which we will examine later on in this article. And while they all have their pros and their cons, there is one salient fact: there is not one standard way of doing it. 

Because of this, you have different people applying different methodologies to every task or project. A lot of the time the process will be the exact same, but the mapping of it will be different. So it will seem like the entire process is different when, in fact, it is not. And it just ends up becoming more confusing and complicated than it needs to be.

By sticking to one, simple process improvement methodology notation your business will organize and self-regulate a lot better. And that one notation should be UPN.

How Universal Process Notation Helps Process Improvement Methodologies 

When we think of process mapping, you might think of tools like Visio or Lucid Chart. Now these might work for project management, but they cannot take on the complexity of business processes. Skore was designed in response to this need, making use of UPN for business operations and process mapping, demystifying and making it all more accessible to everyone involved.

This is why we have based our software on UPN.

By committing to using UPN, we narrow down the methodologies to simply one mapping process with a universally understood notation. Your team only needs to learn one type of mapping process, and you teach each new employee or team member the same one.

And, because UPN has standardised notations for process mapping, you mitigate the risk of anyone seeing the map having varying interpretations of each symbol or step. Not to mention, UPN is designed to be understood by any business person, not just experts.

UPN will also save you time. 

Not only are you not disagreeing as a team on processes due to a lack of consensus on notation, but you are also not spending time trying to understand what each person is doing. You are not relying on the paper and pen technologies of Henry Ford, when process mapping methodologies began. 

All your information is centralized, accessible and legible thanks to UPN-powered software. You do not have to re-read or re-write the same sticky note hundreds of times, or check the one file cabinet all the way at the back. 

It is all accessible via software like Skore. And easily understood.

With Skore, you can do end-to-end process mapping, and break down each section. Skore’s UPN-reliant process mapping framework allows businesses to create a hierarchy of the complexity of the processes, so that each business can go from big picture to small details of any process.

With Skore, process improvement and process optimization are at the tips of your fingers, as you will have a process library you can access anytime and anywhere. Within the process repository Skore offers, process management and process standardization will go hand-in-hand. No more looking at fifty different notes to find what the order should be!

Having understood the issues inherent with process mapping methodologies and how UPN mitigates those problems, let’s take a look at three methodologies more closely, and examine how using UPN would solve any issues.

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Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping comes from Toyota’s Production System, and it refers to the process of mapping every step of the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order all the way through to delivery.

Typically you start off mapping the current condition of the flow, and then creating a future map based on that of how the flow should actually work. Value stream mapping, as the name implies, focuses on value-streams as a whole – it is a ‘big picture’ approach to understanding how your business operations are working. As opposed to process mapping, where you focus on one aspect in particular of the entire process, here you are trying to understand and show how the entire operation and organization is working, and find places where you can make it better.

It also shows you the connection between your material and information flows, and really brings the entire process down to a level where it can be discussed without it seeming too overwhelming.

With maps this large, however, it is very easy to get lost and confused in the weeds, especially when mapping your current flow. If part of your current flow is always relying on Steve from the Warehouse to move some of your product in a certain way, what happens when Steve takes a sick day? Or when some piece of equipment fails for whatever reason?

You could spend hours pondering these questions when you first map everything out, and, if you do not commit to one way of noting each instance, future workers will be just more confused. Not only might Steve not be there to show them how it’s done, but if you’ve chosen to keep the information of how it’s done on a sticky note somewhere in the archives, rest assured that it is highly unlikely it will get done as intended.

Instead, UPN can step in here and save the day. 

By having your value stream maps made using universal process notation, there can be no mistakes or misunderstandings when it comes to reading the map. Everyone will be familiar with the signage, and will be able to step up wherever it is needed at any time, as everyone will be able to follow the intended flow of materials and information.

And software like Skore will make it even easier to access all this information in one place.

The Seven Wastes

Another process improvement methodology is the Seven Wastes. Also part of the Toyota Production System, they refer to seven wasteful activities that do not add value to your business processes and the goal is to try to diminish or eliminate them. They are: transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, overproduction, over-processing, and defects.

Transportation does not add any particular value to your product, so minimizing this cost is a no brainer. Not to mention, the environmental costs transport has. A solution would be to build manufacturing closer or opt for more efficient transportation methods when the time comes. 

Inventory waste is related to unprocessed inventory. Not only the storage costs, but also the waste of possible revenue with having unprocessed inventory and all the costs associated with storing it. And all the environmental effects keeping said unprocessed inventory stored have.

Motion is all the motions, whether done by machines or human workers, that can be minimized. Whether that is having less distances between spaces on a conveyor belt or setting a machine up to paint instead of a worker, depends on the product. Minimizing motion can also refer to taking better care of both workers and machines so that they both are kept in good condition.

Waiting, which we all hate, happens when one part of production is finished but you cannot move onto the next. This may be due to transportation issues, motion issues, or any combination of the seven wastes you can think of. But it slows down the entire process, and you should always be on the lookout for ways to minimize it, as waiting only generates less revenue and more costs for your business.

Overproduction is exactly what it sounds like. You bite the bullet and make way too many Mr. Potato Head toys, only for kids to want lightsabers for Christmas this year instead. Overproduction will then result in more unprocessed inventory, and all the associated costs there. Not to mention all the revenue you are never going to see come back.

Over-processing is any part of the manufacturing process that can be considered unnecessary. You are adding value to a product in an area that it is unneeded. For example, in Barbie’s Holiday Home, you don’t need to paint every wall a different shade of pink. That is way too much work to go into a toy that will probably be used until it’s broken. You’ve created more work and spent more money on an aspect that will be unimportant to your customer. And this is something you never want to happen.

And finally, defects. We’ve all come across an Amazon review of someone that ordered something and it came looking a lot different. Whether because it was a sizing mistake or a design issue, your business now has to take on the responsibility of the defect, process the associated paperwork, send the customer a new one or offer a refund, and potentially lose a customer and the associated revenue.

Now imagine if any part of your process mapping associated with the seven wastes and how to mitigate them is confusing for your business people. You might end up producing more waste instead in the worst case scenario. After all, overproduction or over-processing would only happen if something was not communicated properly.

And the key to any good business operation and process is good communication.

UPN, by virtue of it simplicity and standardisation, would greatly serve to correctly communicate the processes needed to avoid all of these wastes. With software dedicated to process mapping utilising UPN, you would not have to worry about any of these, as all of your business people would be able to understand and fix issues as they come up.

The 5 S’s

The 5’s also come to us from Toyota. In Japanese, they stand for seiri (organize, or sort), seiton (orderliness, or set in order), seiso (cleanliness, or shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (discipline, or sustain).

Sort refers to eliminating any part of the process that can be deemed unnecessary. Think of Marie Kondo’s bringing joy metaphor. If the part of the process does not bring joy to your business or does not amplify it in any way, you can dismiss it. The same goes for actual items, be it unnecessary equipment, tools, flyers, inventory, etc. Anything that is unneeded to complete the actual process should be removed.

With orderliness, you look at what you have left and you arrange it neatly. You identify what tool or equipment you use where, and make sure they are easily accessible in those spaces. You should also indicate what each space and tool is used for, so that everything remains where it should be going forward.

Shine essentially boils down to keeping your work area clean. Anyone who has worked in the food or beverage industry can attest to the importance of constantly cleaning after yourself and your clients. In a business manufacturing environment, it is the same thing. Keep everything clean and tidy, and you will not waste time or run into any potential problems.

Additionally, standardisation means you should schedule regular cleaning and maintenance by sorting, being orderly, and shining on a daily basis. Which leads us to discipline. The moment you think something can be pushed for the next day is the moment where you lose track of things. Just have a daily list of tasks, a bi-weekly list of tasks, monthly and yearly, and keep to it.

To ensure that the 5 S’s are followed, you need to have mapping and messaging throughout all the different parts of your business manufacturing process that reflect their importance and which steps should be followed when. And, if this messaging looks any different at any point, this will only cause confusion. Eventually, a step will be missed, or someone will get confused, and it will snowball into a lack of all 5 S’s.

By utilizing UPN, you are able to circumvent any potential misunderstandings. As the notation is universal, no one will be confused, and everyone, regardless of whether they’re an expert at business mapping or not, will be able to follow along with the correct steps.

After all, UPN makes it easy to understand how your map flows, thereby making it easier on all to understand how you want your steps to go.


We’ve explored a variety of process improvement methodologies in this article, from three very specific examples to all of the problems inherent in using them as a combination.

Instead, think of UPN and its simplicity for all of your team. Anyone can understand it, and apply it correctly.

And, in the digital world, you no longer need to rely on paper and pen.

For business product mapping processes, Skore is happy to provide you with UPN software to make all the steps flow naturally and easily for your entire business team. 

Book a demo today to find out more!