10 Tips for Building a Great Process Map

Process maps have tremendous value. Remember the adage: A picture is worth a thousand words. A process map is a valuable picture of your operations, helping to illustrate clearly how things work; it shows tasks, decisions, data collection, flow of materials and information, and the sequence of process steps. This picture is far better than verbal descriptions, which might be interpreted differently from one person to another. A process map becomes documentation of setup and changes, as well as an important teaching and troubleshooting tool.

However, a process map is only as good as its construction through the application of proven process mapping techniques. Use these tips for each step of creating a great process map. Note that great doesn’t necessarily mean fanciest or neatest. A great process map is accurate, complete, and useful for its purpose, while being time-effective in its creation.


1. Identify the Specific Process You Will Map

This may seem obvious, but specifically identifying the process is important so you know who should participate in the mapping. You also need to know why you’re doing it, not just for the sake of doing a process map. For example, you might want to map the ideal process of a new installation to use for training or map an existing process to use for troubleshooting.


2. Engage a Multifunctional Group of Folks

While it’s possible for an individual to create a process map, it’s better to get participation from people from multiple functions to ensure all elements and perspectives are included. An engineer might identify the steps exactly as designed while an operator might note how the process has adapted and evolved after actual implementation in the real world.


3. Define the Start and End of Your Process

For every specific mapping effort, define where it stops and starts to avoid scope creep. You want to spend a limited amount of time on this effort and not allow it to drag on forever as a full value stream map. Individual process map sections can later be hooked together to present an overall view of the larger process and product flow.


4. Brainstorm Process Elements

Use sticky notes for a simple and effective start to the mapping process. All team participants should quickly write down process steps on individual sticky notes and place them randomly on a large white board. After all ideas are exhausted, the team then self-facilitates to remove redundancies and place the process steps in proper sequence of operations.


5. Learn and Use a Few Simple Symbols

Process mapping is a standardized activity, which can include a couple dozen different symbols. You’ll likely need just a few for basic mapping. It’s worthwhile to use these standard symbols rather than inventing your own:

  • Process step (rectangle)
  • Decision (diamond)
  • Direction of process or information (arrow)
  • Start or end (oval)
  • Data (parallelogram)

6. Flesh Out the Process Map

Right on the whiteboard, add in directional arrows, decision points, data collection, and other elements around the sticky notes you’ve assembled in process order. Each decision will generally have two or possibly three outgoing arrows, based on answers to the decision question.

Note any areas of uncertainties or disagreement with big (temporary) question marks. Take a photo or transcribe the map into process mapping software. This easy-to-use software with drag-and-drop symbols is readily available and affordable; don’t waste time trying to create your own symbols and map in Word or PowerPoint.


7. Physically Walk the Process to Verify the Map

This step helps everyone see the process as it actually is, with the opportunity to clarify uncertainties. Bring along the photo or electronic version of the map you’ve created and note differences between that and the actual process in the workplace, including any shortcuts or undocumented deviations.


8. Review and Update the Process Map

Back in the conference room, update the process map to show what you’ve discovered in the real world. The map is now complete!


9. Don’t Just Stick the Finished Process Map in a Drawer. Use It

Consider some of the many helpful things you might use the process map for, including:

  • Writing procedures and training new employees, including engineering, maintenance, operations, and quality staff.
  • Troubleshooting, so multi-functional team members can quickly have the same understanding of the process as they begin problem solving.
  • Providing input for capital planning and implementation of process changes.
  • Looking for continuous improvement opportunities. The process map is a great feed for value stream maps, helping to identify ways to reduce steps, eliminate non-value-added tasks, and make processes more efficient.

10. Recheck and Regularly Update the Process Map Using Standardized Process Mapping Techniques.

After any equipment, process, or procedural change, update the process map to show the new current state, again physically walking the process to be sure you have the correct picture. It’s also valuable to review process maps and compare them against the actual workplace processes on a regular schedule to check for unintended changes. Address any issues that are discovered by adjusting the process or updating the process map.


Contact EON for more information on process mapping techniques and benefits.


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About the author

Nancy Bach

Nancy Bach has spent more than 20 years in the industry as a quality and operational excellence practitioner and manager. In private consulting, she creates and delivers a Lean Certification course, provides Green Belt training and works with multi-functional organizations to develop strategy and implement process improvement.