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How to Start Process Mapping for Your Team (Examples, Tools & Tips)

Process mapping is more than just building flow charts. Learn our 7-step framework for building process maps using audience research and documentation software.

Introduction

You’ll be amazed at the number of great ideas that started with a quick sketch on the back of a napkin. 

Southwest Airlines began when co-founder, Rollin King, drew out a route between San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. 

Well-loved Pixar movies like A Bug’s Life, Wall-E and Finding Nemo were also born from a series of rough sketches made on the back of a napkin. 

Many of our great ideas are best communicated visually — whether it’s describing a thought, portraying a character or motivating action.

Process mapping is a business technique that leverages the same value, but with more standardization and resources to take napkin scribbles one step further. 

Process maps have become an important tool for companies to turn complex ideas and thoughts into easy-to-digest visual resources.

You don’t need to create an award-winning airline or movie to see the ROI of a process map.

You’ll see results in the buy-in you get, the mutual understanding you’ll build, and the resources you’ll get to work with thanks to efficient planning. 

In this blog, we’ll show you what you need to build a suitable process map for your team. 

What is process mapping?

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

Unlike text-heavy documents (like project proposals, reports or contracts) process maps use short sentences, symbols and graphics to lay out a series of actions and how it contributes to an end goal.

It’s meant to simplify how your team views an entire process from beginning to end. 

Process maps can be used to help companies overcome both internal and consumer-facing challenges. You can use these visual processes to: 

  • Educate employees about business workflows. 
  • Compare different variables in a decision-making process.
  • Identify bottlenecks and areas of improvement in processes and procedures.
  • Plan and organize projects.
  • Visualize user actions and interactions for product development.

Process maps are also made up of a few key elements: actions, activity steps, decision flows, inputs and outputs.

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

What are the different types of process maps?

When you think about a process map, you might imagine a workflow that looks something like this

But your process maps should focus less on a specific format, and instead be optimized for the highest levels of efficiency needed to communicate all important information.

You can structure your process maps beyond a traditional diagram if you know you need to include more specific visual aid — in 30 seconds, you could turn that same workflow diagram into something that looks like this

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

#1. Workflow diagram

Workflow diagrams, also known as flow charts, are the most basic form of process maps.

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

This process map 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. Cross-functional map

(Source: Microsoft)
(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.

This format lets you depict interactions between different teams and highlight the result of those interactions. 

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.

It can help you better collaborate on design projects, product reviews, events and more. 

#3. Step-by-step workflows

Processes that involve software and digital platforms can become lengthy and confusing after accounting for interactions with different buttons and screens.

Using text to explain a tool’s navigation process also runs the risk of being too complicated and vague.

Process maps should be quick to refer to, which means the less text the better.

You can use screen captures and screenshots in place of traditional flow chart symbols to give your team a detailed look at in-app actions. 

With screen captures, you can spend your word count describing precise actions instead of the elements surrounding them.

These step-by-step guides and templates can be used to capture processes like software and employee onboarding, quality assessment tutorials and system operations.

#4. High-level process maps

This process map is also known as a SIPOC (Supplies, Inputs, Processes, Outputs and Customers) map because it 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. 

(Source: ISixSigma) 
(Source: ISixSigma

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. Kanban boards

(Source: Planview)
(Source: Planview)

Kanban boards are a staple template for project management because of their simple yet flexible framework for process organization.

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 limiting 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.

You can use project management software to make your Kanban boards vibrant, reader-friendly and accessible. 

💡Scribe top tip: Scribe integrates with project management software like Confluence and Monday.com! Now you can capture your screen, build tutorials automatically and embed them directly into process maps. Here's a Scribe in action:

#6. Value stream map

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.

(Source: LucidChart)
(Source: LucidChart)

‎In manufacturing and production processes, a value stream map comes in handy because teams can get 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.

How to create a process map

Process maps are meant to be a simple and convenient way for teams to share information and condense complex topics.

In fact, it should be an initiative that any project owner or team member has the confidence to take on. 

Everyone on your team should have access to resources that can help them use process maps effectively when planning and executing projects. 

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

Step 1: Identify a problem that can benefit from standardized processes

A process map is set up to fail if it isn’t tied to a strong goal right from the get-go.

Don’t limit yourself to a specific type of process map until you’re 100% sure of the problem you’re trying to solve. 

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. 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 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 straight-forward and 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. 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 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.

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  • 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 6: 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 you’re using a robust analytics tool at different trigger points or using surveys and chatbots to collect feedback, you want to make sure 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 new process improvements 

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

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

Step into your processes informed & prepared

A 2020 survey by Adobe found that 40 percent of decision-makers find that digital documentation processes lead to higher customer satisfaction and employee productivity.

Documentation tools give your team more bandwidth and convenience to prioritize knowledge-sharing in everything they do.

Automated workflows, pre-built templates, smart embeds and link-sharing can help you generate and distribute detailed process maps in minutes. This means less time spent: 

  • Searching for information.
  • Updating old documents.
  • Recreating missing documents.
  • Fixing errors due to inaccurate or non-existing documents.