business process mapping

Business process mapping is the visual display of the steps involved in a business process from start to finish. Process mapping draws a concise picture of the sequences of tasks needed to bring a product or service from genesis to completion. It is often depicted as a flowchart and usually moves from left to right, or sometimes top down.

Business process mapping is part of workflow management practices, which also include business process modeling that can provide a more detailed representation of a process that generally incorporates additional organizational material.

Business process mapping steps

An organization should start business process mapping by identifying the process to be documented. It should then articulate the start and end points of the process and document each task following the start point through to the process completion. As part of the documentation, the organization should indicate decision points in the process; these are points where a yes or no decision is required, with each answer leading the process in either one of two directions.

An organization undertaking this exercise should also consider when does this process take place, why does it take place and who is involved in the process.

As part of business process mapping, organizational leaders should observe the process or gather information from workers to create an accurate understanding of what tasks are involved in the process and the sequence in which they happen.

Business process mapping should keep information clear and simple, although organizations can include more or fewer details as they believe is necessary.

Process mapping symbols and example

Business process mapping uses various symbols to indicate different parts of the process. An oval is used to indicate the start and end points, for example. A rectangle is a process box that is used to indicate specific steps or tasks to be completed and possibly who does it and how long it takes. A diamond is used to represent a decision point in the process; this is a point at which a yes or no (or true or false) response is needed. Arrows, or connectors, show how one point in the process leads to another.

For example: An organization decides it wants to map how it fulfills phone orders. The process to be mapped is fulfilling phone orders to buy products. The start point is receiving the phone call, which is listed inside an oval. Follow-on tasks include a worker inputting the customer's order and taking the customer's credit card number for payment. Each of these tasks is listed within a rectangle with an arrow leading from the oval to the next rectangle to the next rectangle. Next comes a diamond, inside which is the payment-approved task. Two arrows lead out from the diamond to two other rectangles. One arrow indicates "yes," for payment approved and the other arrow indicates "no," for review required. This path from the "yes" arrow leads from the diamond to the follow-on tasks that need to happen to complete the sale and deliver the product to the customer. The "no" arrow leads to the follow-on processes that the company wants to have happen if a payment is not approved. Both paths need to indicate an end point, which is listed within an oval.

process mapping key

Business process mapping uses other symbols as well, with these additional symbols representing specific items; there are shapes to indicate data, input, a single document and multiple documents.

Goal and importance of business process mapping

Organizations typically use business process mapping for one or more of the following reasons:

  • To ensure compliance with best practices, regulations or standards;
  • To aid in communicating the process to stakeholders, such as new employees who will be involved in the business process; and/or
  • To improve visibility into existing processes.

Many organizations use business process mapping to aid analysis of business processes as they seek to re-engineer the entire process or improve specific steps within the process.

Process mapping software

Although business process mapping can be completed on paper or a white board, software applications for this exercise are available and can bring uniformity as organizations create process maps for multiple processes and can better support collaboration among stakeholders involved in the exercise. Although many software vendors package business process mapping functions as part of a broader enterprise business process management suite of products, stand-alone business process mapping software products are available and often have intuitive click-to-create functions that allow for broader adoption in the organization.

This was last updated in October 2016

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