What is Process Mapping? A Step-by-Step Guide

Winona Rajamohan
November 29, 2022
min read
March 15, 2024
Photo credit
Learn how to create effective process maps with our step-by-step guide. Simplify complex ideas and improve productivity with our 7-step framework for business process mapping.
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Many great ideas are best communicated visually—describing a thought, motivating action or describing a process.

Process mapping is a technique for visualizing, analyzing and improving business processes. While many people picture flow charts when they think of visual processes, process mapping can be so much more than building flow charts.

In this blog, we’ll show you what you need to build a suitable process map for your team. Learn the popular types of process maps and get started using our 7-step framework for process mapping. 

TL;DR: Process mapping

  • Process mapping is a visual way to communicate workflows and processes.
  • A process map outlines the steps in a process, identifies task owners, and shows expected timelines. It helps communicate processes and identify areas for improvement.
  • Business process mapping simplifies complex ideas and helps you identify areas of improvement.
  • There are eight types of process maps, including flowcharts, swimlane diagrams, value stream maps, SIPOC diagrams, business process diagrams, process flows, cross-functional maps, and Kanban boards.
  • Creating a process map involves identifying a problem, obtaining expert knowledge, outlining steps, simplifying the creation, getting stakeholder feedback, and implementing and measuring the impact.
  • Digital process documentation tools like Scribe can streamline the process and improve productivity.

What is process mapping?

A process map is a framework for visually communicating workflows and step-by-step processes to team members and stakeholders. 

Process mapping simplifies how your team views an entire process from beginning to end. It outlines the steps in a process, identifies task owners, and shows expected timelines.

Process mapping uses short sentences, symbols and graphics to lay out actions and how they contribute to an end goal. It helps communicate processes and identify areas for improvement.

Process mapping symbols

Process maps typically use a variety of symbols to represent the different steps and components of a process. Some of the most common symbols include:

  • Start and end points showing where the process starts and ends.
  • Steps in the process, in sequential order.
  • Inputs and outputs of each step.
  • Decision points indicate where a decision needs to be made.
  • Connectors that show the flow of the process from one step to the next.
  • People and systems that are involved in each step.

Depending on the type of process map you’re building, you can also include other elements that showcase actions, decision flows, the time required to complete each step, and the results to be measured. 

Types of process mapping

  1. Flow charts
  2. Swimlane diagrams
  3. Value stream map
  4. SIPOC process maps
  5. Business process diagrams
  6. Process flows
  7. Cross-functional maps
  8. Kanban boards

Here are eight types of process maps and what you can use them for:

1. Flow charts

Flowcharts, also known as workflow diagrams, are the most basic form of process maps.

All you need to build your diagrams are flow lines and simple symbols representing a process’s start point, ending point and actions.

Workflow process map - What is process mapping?
Example of a simple flowchart

A flowchart is best used to illustrate simpler processes that take teams through a more linear series of steps and decisions to reach their final outcome.

For example, you can use workflow diagrams to map out the process of qualifying sales leads, launching a new product feature, building email nurture campaigns and more.

2. Swimlane diagrams

Venngage swimlane diagram for process mapping
(Source: Venngage)

‎Swimlane diagrams are a type of flowchart showing the different roles or departments involved in a process. Each swimlane represents a different role or department, and the steps in the process are arranged within the swimlanes to show who is responsible for each step.

A customer service team could use a swimlane diagram to map the process for handling customer inquiries.

3. Value stream map

LucidChart value stream map - What is process mapping?
(Source: LucidChart)

Value stream maps (VSM) are part of a business methodology called Lean Six Sigma (LSS), which aims to reduce waste during production processes.

Companies apply LSS principles as a tool to fine-tune operations into something that’s as concise and efficient as possible. 

In a value stream map, companies use a flow chart to document what components and actions are needed at each stage of a project. 

The goal of a VSM is to analyze workflow details and suggest improvements. The amount of specifications listed at each project phase is what sets a VSM apart from other process maps.‎

A value stream map can improve manufacturing and production processes by getting a snapshot of the volume of output created and the time elapsed to get that output.

Suppliers and brokers can use a VSM to identify or predict a shortage or excess of resources like raw materials, talent, time and money.

4. SIPOC process maps

ISixSigma high-level process map - What is process mapping?
(Source: ISixSigma

The SIPOC (Supplies, Inputs, Processes, Outputs and Customers) map helps teams see at a glance how a product or service should interact with customers.

Unlike others mentioned on this list, this process map aims to simplify workflows into a big-picture overview of four to eight steps. 

You can apply the SIPOC model to break down customer-facing or employee-facing processes like pricing transactions and feedback collection. These processes are sliced into five sections:

  • Supplies.
  • Inputs.
  • Processes.
  • Outputs.
  • Customers.

... and each has one or more key functions and milestones.

For example, a high-level process map can be used to document the acquisition of data or services from a vendor during product development. 

5. Business process diagrams

Cflow purchasing process diagram for process mapping
(Source: Cflow)

‎Business process diagrams (BPDs) are a type of process map that provides a detailed view of a process.

Business process flow diagrams provide in-depth insights into your processes, and they're often used to document and improve complex business processes.

BPDs typically include:

  • All of the steps in the process in sequential order.
  • The inputs and outputs of each step.
  • The people and systems involved in each step.
  • Where decisions are made in the process, and the possible outcomes of each decision.
  • How information flows through the process, from one step to the next.

Business process diagrams have a ton of applications, like documenting and improving business processes, identifying bottlenecks, creating standard processes, onboarding new customers, and many more.

6. Process flows

A process flow is a sequence of steps that take place in a process. They're a way of visualizing the steps in a process and how they relate to each other. Process flows can be represented using a variety of tools, such as flowcharts, swimlane diagrams, and value stream maps.‎

Process flows are often used with other business process mapping techniques like SIPOC diagrams and flow charts. SIPOC diagrams provide a high-level overview of a process, while business process diagrams provide a more detailed view. Process flows can be used to bridge the gap between these two types of diagrams, providing a more complete picture of the process.

Process flows can capture software processes like employee onboarding, quality assessments, and business operating systems.

Use AI-powered tools like Scribe to capture process flows and automatically create visual, step-by-step guides in seconds.

7. Kanban boards

Planview Kanban board - What is process mapping?
(Source: Planview)

Kanban boards are a staple template for project management because of their simple yet flexible framework for process organization. Visualizing your workflow with Kanban boards makes it easier to manage tasks.

A Kanban board is made up of a few core elements: 

  • Kanban cards: These cards contain the tasks and action items that populate your board. 
  • Columns: Represent the phases of a project. 
  • Swimlanes: Divides the board into horizontal lanes for separating roles and types of activities. 
  • WIP limits: Motivates teams to complete tasks by restricting the number of task cards populating other project phases.

With its column and swimlanes, these boards can be easily adapted into a process map that visualizes hierarchical steps, approval flows and cross-team collaboration.

Project management software can make your Kanban boards vibrant, reader-friendly, and accessible. 

8. Cross-functional map

Cross-functional map - What is process mapping?
(Source: Microsoft)

Some processes involve multiple relationships and conditions. This makes it difficult to arrange into a clear flow chart.

Cross-functional maps allow you to organize processes into a sectioned grid, showing interactions between different teams and highlighting the results. 

Each section of your grid will represent different stakeholders, project phases and milestones.

You can then leverage flowchart symbols to indicate who is responsible for the inputs and outputs of your project or process. 

Cross-functional maps are a good choice for projects involving two or more functions or teams in your organization. They can help you better collaborate on design projects, product reviews, events, and more. 

How to create a process map

Let’s dive into the core steps (and a few recommended tools) you can use to create different kinds of business process mapping: 

Step 1: Identify a problem

Are you trying to improve an existing process or plan an entirely new one from scratch? Do your desired results impact your customers, internal employees, or product or technology stack?

Answering these questions will help you determine the right starting and ending point for your process map. 

From there, it becomes easier to visualize the actions needed to take you from your starting to your ending point.

Think about the levels of visibility you need to execute the process, whether that’s resource expenditure, cross-functional collaboration, system workflows or more. 

Make sure you have someone in charge of documenting these planning notes so you can refer to them later when you’re ready to map your process out. 

Step 2: Obtain expert-level knowledge about the problem at hand

The person in charge of building process maps doesn’t have to be the biggest expert on the problem being solved—but they should have strong communication, organizational and collaboration skills. 

Whether you’re a manager, on an operations team or a project leader, you want to work together with other experts on your team to make the most informed decisions about your process map. 

You can do this by: 

  • Conducting informational interviews with internal experts and those who are involved in the process.
  • Sending out a survey to internal teams about process-related experiences.
  • Checking in with managers and leaders about the challenges and KPIs they expect to see when executing the process.

Don’t forget to organize your findings clearly along the way.

All your learnings should be attributed to the right team member or department by business process type. You can also group and categorize your learnings into different phases, functions and actions. 

Step 3: Outline a sequence of steps 

Once you’ve done the first two steps we’ve listed here, sorting your process into a hierarchical sequence will come easily.

At this stage of business process mapping, it’s time to select the right technique to display your information. 

Your topic and audience research will show you the density of information you need to fit into your process map, the relationships that have to be drawn out between different functions, and the visuals needed to clearly communicate what your team needs to do next. 

Step 4: Simplify the creation of your process map 

Process maps, like many forms of process documentation, are a point of reference that teams can quickly pull up before or during the execution of a process. 

It’s a straightforward, concise document that aims to save you and your team time and confusion. Spending hours creating and duplicating process maps defeats the purpose they want to serve. 

Organizations big and small use software to automate the more manual parts of document creation, like formatting content, generating templates, building workflows and more.

Digitization efforts like this have accelerated company documentation processes by 55 percent, according to a Forrester study. Here are a few tools you can use to create process maps quickly and at scale: 

Step 5: Get stakeholder feedback

The number of elements involved in a single process map increases the risk of mistakes or complications. 

Before you finalize the document and roll it out to your team, share it with a few stakeholders and ask them if they spot any errors or room for improvement.

These stakeholders can include those with prior experience leading the same process, those who have executed the process in the past, and those who will be executing the process for the first time based on your business process map. 

This stage of the process gives you a great opportunity to improve the clarity and accuracy of your document. You can also optimize parts of your process map to better appeal to specific groups of readers. 

Step 6: Implement your process map

Now you’re ready to put the process map you’ve worked so hard on into action. 

Your implementation process should cover the following areas: 

  • Initial education: Make an explicit announcement about the existence of your process map. Educate your team about what the process map covers, why it was created and how they can use it to make their jobs easier.
  • Building a habit: Integrate the document into the systems they interact with the most. With tools like Scribe, you can automatically generate links and smart embeds of your process maps so they’re visible in Slack channels, project management software, knowledge bases and more.
  • Internal sharing: Save your process maps into a format that can be easily shared amongst team members. Instead of large PDFs, save your process maps as cloud-based files that relevant team members can find and view whenever they need it. 

Step 7: Measure the impact of your process map 

The last (and arguably, most important) step is measuring how your process map has made a difference in everyday workflows. You can track and measure the difference in results before and after its implementation. 

Whether using a robust analytics tool at different trigger points or using surveys and chatbots to collect feedback, you want to ensure you’re consistently documenting results at set intervals.

This is the only way you’ll be able to show leaders ROI and get their buy-in for your continuous process improvement model.

The KPIs you use to define success can be qualitative or quantitative, depending on the process you’re executing. Some examples of these metrics are: 

  • Task completion times. 
  • Employee engagement and productivity.
  • Customer satisfaction.
  • Product and user adoption rates.

Why is process mapping important?

Process mapping can be used to help companies overcome both internal and consumer-facing challenges.

You can use these visual processes to: 

  • Educate employees about business process management
  • Compare different variables in a decision-making process.
  • Standardize processes and improve consistency.
  • Identify bottlenecks and areas of improvement in processes and procedures.
  • Plan and organize projects.
  • Visualize user actions and interactions for product development.
  • Identify and meet the needs of your customers better.
  • Document processes for compliance and audit purposes.
  • Improve product or service quality by finding and eliminating errors in your processes.
  • Reduce risk in your processes, leading to more reliable business operations.
  • Make better decisions about processes, and improve performance and profitability.

Wrapping up: process mapping

Process mapping is a powerful tool for businesses of all sizes, in all industries, that can be used to improve business processes. You can use business process mapping for any type of process, from simple to complex.

By understanding and visualizing business processes, you can identify areas for improvement and make changes that increase your efficiency. With Scribe, you can map your process flows in seconds, saving time and improving productivity. Sign up today to get started!

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