Process Mapping Guide
New to process mapping? Learn all about business process mapping with our simple guide.
In Skore’s guide to Process Mapping you’ll learn:
So if you need help understanding process mapping or would like to learn a little more in any of these areas then please read more in our comprehensive guide to process mapping.
What is a Process Map?
What is a process?
The first part of our process mapping guide is to make sure you know exactly what a process is. You can’t understand a process mapping guide without that! A process is a set of activities that are carried out to deliver an outcome.The number of activities described or the outcome achieved can be completely individual to any organisation or person. While some processes are pretty similar it is always worth talking through them to make sure that they are accurate.
The basic concept of Process mapping or Business Process Mapping is actually very simple. It is the activity of looking at all the actions that your organisation does and making note of them. These may be actions that occur daily, monthly or annually. However in any case your organisation needs to understand how they deal with any actions and who is responsible for this. If an organisation wants to be successful they need to understand their processes and companies that are effective will generally understand their processes very well. It is often also referred to as process capture or process discovery. This guide will examine process mapping using all of these terms.
A process diagram is often how we write down that process. We’ll talk about this in a lot more detail later. However you can describe it as a visualisation of your process. This is often in one page to make it easy to read and understand.
What Do We Use Process Maps For?
As discussed, there are lots of reasons why you decide to map your processes. In this section we’d like to talk about what we use process maps for. A basic process map can have a number of different uses and all of them are an advantage for any organisation. Mostly, they are used for the following reasons:
- Systems Implementation and Automation
- Continuous Improvement
- Standards and Compliance
- Organisation Design
- Change and Transformation
Systems Implementation and Automation
Many organisations are turning to technology to help streamline their businesses. Before any investment is made in computer systems, an organisation must understand exactly how they do certain tasks. By mapping a process first the organisation can understand what are the steps and who does what. A process map will identify repetitive work and then allow the organisation to design and build systems that can do the work instead.
If you capture or map a process as part of your continuous improvement programme then you can really help your organisation. Capturing a process allows you to find inefficiencies that perhaps you weren’t aware of before. It also helps you identify potential risks and helps you find a way to reduce them. Using process maps as a baseline allows you to ensure that your organisation are using a common language when describing processes. By taking the time to map the process you make sure your company are consistent and rigorous in their approach
Standards and Compliance
Using process discovery means that your organisation is making sure that your procedures are consistent and of a high quality. Mapping a process out means you can be certain that you are staying within the rules and regulations required. All organisations need to conform to official standards of some sort within their industry. Process mapping makes sure that your standards are up to scratch. Alternatively your organisation may decide to apply for certification (e.g. ISO 9001) or legally need to ensure business practices fit in with new legal requirements (Sarbanes-Oxley is a good historical example).
If you are looking at your organisation and the future then taking the time to map your processes gives you a distinct advantage. When defining all the important actions you will also identify who is responsible for what. This also helps you make sure that the person doing the job is the right person. If you are reorganising then this is really key! Process discovery will ensure that you are able to put the right person in the right part of the organisation to deliver the best results.
Change and Transformation
This may also sometimes be referred to as ‘as is vs to be’. Here there may be two stages to your process mapping. Essentially you need to understand the difference between how things work today and how you want them to work in the future. By capturing your processes you will understand where the gaps are and what the future will really look like.
Benefits of Process Mapping
There are so many advantages to mapping your processes – in a process mapping guide it is still difficult to mention them all! However these are the key reasons why your organisation should be investing in process mapping to ensure they continue to lead the way.
Gives you the ‘big picture’
By taking the time to process capture you are producing a snapshot of how your organisation works. Sometimes you can be surprised by what goes on that certain departments didn’t even know about.
Process Discovery allows you to collect information about your organisation that can be vital. Anything from costs, risks, time taken to achieve a task, time lost, bottlenecks, requirements, systems used – the list is endless.
Share in a common language
Mapping a process means that everyone gets to learn how something is done and should be done. It also means that everyone then knows the score. The organisation is aligned in their way of thinking and doing.
Starting point for strategic knowledge
Capturing a process means that your organisation is ready to launch a project or change programme. Process mapping allows change to happen, and happen successfully. Often effective process mapping will shape how an organisation makes decisions and changes objectives.
Taking the time to map processes also means that teams have the chance to look at the way they do things and challenge if they are correct. They may also discover there is a quicker or cheaper way to do things, learn where there is repetition and think of new ways to improve customer experience. Process capture allows everyone to assess their processes and think of the best ways to do something. This will mean higher levels of service for all.
Mapping a process should never be a short term goal. Process mapping is something that should be continuous. Once an organisation has mapped a process they should be able to share it with everyone. A process should be reviewed and updated. If it is it can be an excellent training and induction tool for any employee to use. Process maps can be stored online or in the cloud easily and in an easy to read format making it effortless for employees.
Process Mapping Issues
Its difficult to really see any disadvantages to taking the time to capture your processes. However it is true to say, like anything, if it’s not done correctly, mapping processes can be a wasted exercise. Follow our process mapping guide on how not to process map:
Common complaints include:
Doing process discovery the right way first time requires investment. That can be hard for any company to understand. This is especially true if they haven’t really understood the benefits and that investment is wasted as the process aren’t captured properly.
Not getting the anticipated results
A lot of success and problem solving can be hung on process mapping. Making sure the organisation understands what you can and cannot do is really important from the very beginning.
Difficult to read
Processes can be really complicated. If they aren’t displayed in a simple way they can be overwhelming and difficult to read. If they are on paper it’s easy to lose or forget what was said.
Out of date easily
You can spend a lot of time mapping a process. You feel great after a workshop, you create a beautiful process map… and then you forget about it for a year or two. Once you finally dust it off it’s way out of date. What a waste of time! It’s vital to ensure that you continue to use your process map after the workshop. Using a software that is easy to update and share with your colleagues will make that ten times more easier.
Takes too much time
Sometimes mapping a process can be blamed for stopping the whole project or initiative. It’s really important to make sure that the method of capturing your process is effective. Can you do it in the workshop or do you have to waste valuable hours later entering all the information? Are people getting frustrated by trying to access information that isn’t accessible to all? Make sure that you have the correct tools in place before hand and your process discovery will go smoothly.
Common Approaches to Process Mapping
Like many business activities there are different ways and theories on how to capture processes. Here we are going to go through some of the main ones though this guide to process mapping languages is by no means exhaustive.
BPMN stands for Business Process Model and Notation. It is a model used to represent a process flow. Basically the idea is to present a complex process in a more visual way which allows you to understand and see how a process works in an organisation. To put it very simply BPMN is like a flow chart with more detail – it contains ‘pools’ and ‘swimlanes’ which allow it to detail complex processes. There will be different swimlanes within a single pool which allows different roles and responsibilities to be detailed. Once you understand the terminology and shapes you are able to appreciate the organisational process. BPMN uses the same shapes (objects on a map), concepts and terminology whether the project is a small simple process or a complex organisation. When you understand the model you can then understand any process map therefore understanding and learning to use BPMN takes time and training.
Universal Modelling Language is another way to produce a visual diagram of a process by using a series of different diagrams to present the process. UML prides itself on its flexibility and diverse ‘process language’ but this can make it pretty complicated. The best thing is to try and keep your process maps really simple and UML is used for many types of diagram including more static organisational charts. For process related diagrams you can use the swimlane diagram or cross functional flowchart which describes the activities you need to complete an action. This is the simplest diagram you can use in UML and probably the best. It allows you to create swimlanes and you can show different conditions, roles, and steps in a process.
EPC or Event-driven Process Chain is a different type of process diagram. Every process is defined by ‘events’ which serve as the beginning and end of the process. These events essentially define the process and guide the steps then different ‘elements’ are then used to fill in the information and stages of the process. These consist of Function, Event, Control Flow, Logical Connector and Process Interface. The combination of these elements allows a practiced analyst to put together a complex process diagram. EPC is detailed and complex and anyone new to process mapping may struggle to understand it straightaway.
Flowcharting or a Process Flowchart is a generic diagram tool that can be used to show a process flow. You can use a flowchart to show the different steps in a process and the good news it can be adapted to any type of process easily. You can use any simple box to describe your process yet there are up to nearly 30 standard shapes you can use for example a decision box, document box, arrow and a start/end box are just a few examples. Flowcharts are easy to use but limited in the detail and analysis after the process map is drawn. .
Universal Process Notation works on basic yet clear questions – what, who, when, why and how. Therefore the objective is to avoid over complication and confusion. UPN aims to be a simpler alternative to process languages use as EPC and BPMN due to its simplicity. The advantage of UPN is that it can generally be understood by business people and not just business analysts or process mapping experts. UPN is an easy way to start process mapping and this is the process language that Skore is based on, it’s is a simple yet powerful way to model activities, workflows and activities. Although extremely easy to read, it can describe complex scenarios as it enables you to drill down when required. Skore’s version concentrates on inputs and Outputs. You can find out more here and you don’t need training to understand how to use it as it only uses two diagram shapes. Designed to be used in a live workshop there is no need to spend hours after writing up your notes or checking the maps are accurate. It’s a great way for beginners to start process mapping without having to learn a new language first.
How to Map a Process
Mapping the actual process in a lot of ways is the easiest bit. However what you may find more of a challenge is getting the information out of the people out of the process. This facilitation is a skill to learn all by itself and you can find out more about how to run a process workshop the right way here.
In this section we are going to talk about some of the traditional ways to process map.
- Document translations
Most process mapping will start with workshops and this is a chance for you to get everyone in the room who is involved in the workshop and get them talking about how the process works. However, it can be difficult to get everyone in the same room, especially if they work in different departments. When you manage it, it’s really important to get it right. If you don’t it’s going to be difficult to convince people to come to your workshop again.
Most importantly make sure that you have invited the right people to your process mapping workshop. You want to ensure that you have the subject matter experts in the room. If the process crosses departments do you have everyone involved? There will be no point mapping out the process if half of the important actors are missing.
Traditional Process Mapping
Traditionally, it’s important to make sure that you order in lots of sticky notes in all colours and have a big supply of brown paper. Process Workshops historically have been held in large rooms where the paper is put on the wall and the sticky notes act as shapes. The diagram is created in front of your eyes. This works well visually of course and should bring the team together as they discuss processes. However you can’t keep a process map like this on the wall forever and it will have to come down and be documented digitally. This is where mistakes happen as sticky notes fall off the paper or you forget which bit came first. It also means that whoever is running the workshop then has to spend time documenting the workshop so make sure that you allocated time for this afterward. It’s important to inform those involved that they may not be able to see the end result for a week or two and manage their expectations.
Modern Process Mapping
The other way to do it is to enter the information into a laptop while you are in the workshop. By using the projector you can show the process map to everyone and it’s easy to make changes and record information. However you may find that some process mapping languages are just too complicated to do in front of everyone.
Skore’s simple method means that you can capture the steps of a process as people are talking so it’s easy to add, update and delete information as needed. The information is then ready to use as soon as the workshop is finished and can be shared with everyone.
Process mapping workshops can be engaging, collaborative and healing spaces if well prepared and organised. Using tools that can aid you and your attendees to map out a process will really help in this so make sure you have done your research and are fully prepared to run the workshop.
However, it’s not always possible or suitable to run a process workshop, although this is the most common way. Another way to discover your processes is to hold one-on-one interviews. An interview will be more focused and can be done quickly as you save a lot of time when not having to manage different discussions. Plus, the other advantage is that people can be more open when no one else is listening. You may find that in workshops people are afraid to be honest about how a process works especially if they are in front of management. The disadvantages of an interview is that you get a very one sided view of the process. This means you need to make sure you interview as many people as possible to get different views and approaches. One to one interviews may be a safe space but it may also mean that issues aren’t addressed and teams are not aligned. An interview could also be a good way to start off your process capture before a workshop. It allows you to review the process and then it can be discussed by the group.
In addition you can always examine existing documents to start putting your process mapping together. It is possible to take existing documents such as policies and procedures and translate them into processes. It’s unlikely that document translation would ever be enough to complete your process map. However it would raise questions and discussion points which can then be reviewed by the team later as part of the process capture.
Although mapping a process is often seen as time consuming and frustrating, we would argue that if you feel that way you are doing it wrong! Processes are an essential part of any organisation and for your organisation to be successful they need to understand them. In Skore’s experience, mapping a process is a sharing, collaborative and engaging experience. It’s an opportunity for any team to get together and check they are doing things the right way and see if they can do anything better. However more than that, its a chance for the team to check they are aligned, that they understand each other’s roles and they work together to make change happen. Use this process mapping guide to make sure that you are getting the most out of this activity every time.