Process Mapping: Definition, Examples and Tools

  1. What is process mapping?
  2. Types of process maps
  3. How to create a process map?
  4. Process mapping tools

What is process mapping?

Process mapping is a technique to create visual, graphical representations of a process flow. It illustrates the start point, in-between steps and the outcome of an operating procedure. Process maps mainly come in the form of flowcharts, and are often constructed using common symbols.

Planning and mapping a process may seem redundant. But you can be surprised as to how many companies are actually willing to spend time on process maps for the following uses:

👀  Visualise processes

“Show, don’t tell.”

Being highly visual, process maps can make complicated processes a lot simpler for your employees to understand. Employees will also be able to visualise how their roles relate to one another.

📌  Standardise processes

Once your map is completed, it helps define the standard protocol for your process. This ensures that everyone follows the same work flow to avoid inconsistencies, overlapping work or confusions during task executions.

💡 Identify problems in processes

A better visualisation of the whole process would also make it easier for you to identify problems or weak links between steps. Therefore, process maps also facilitate businesses to resolve inefficiencies in their processes.

In short, the benefits of process mapping for your organisation can include:

  • Enhanced clarity of communication / collaboration within and between teams
  • More effective education for current / new employees about the protocols for each process
  • Improved productivity of processes
  • Reducing unnecessary costs for operating processes

Types of process maps

Depending on your use case and purpose, the process map that best suits your needs can vary. Here’re the common types of process maps used in business:

Workflow diagram

This is a basic flowchart that outlines all the tasks needed to finish a process. By default, there isn’t a strict set of symbols to follow when constructing workflow diagrams. They are pretty versatile and flexible, which is why they can be used for most business processes.

You can use workflow diagrams to:

  • Plan process steps in sequence
  • Indicate who, when and how to execute these steps

Here’s an example of a hiring workflow diagram:

Swimlane Diagram

If your process involves multiple departments and external vendors, swimlane diagrams or cross-functional flowcharts can be a good alternative.

As the term suggests, a swimlane diagram will consist of different “lanes”. Each lane represents different individual roles, team departments or organisations. This provides a clearer view of how the tasks of different stakeholders relate to one another.

Image: Sketchboard

You can use swimlane diagrams when:

  • There are multiple different stakeholders involved in the process
  • You are focused on defining the responsibilities of each role/team
  • You want to check for any inefficiencies present in the collaborations of  different stakeholders
BPMN diagram

The BPMN diagram is an example of a workflow chart. However, it distinguishes itself by specifically using Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) symbols.

BPMN symbols are standardised across all industries and organisations. They specify different types of events, activities, gateways, swim lanes, connections in the process flow, and more. For the full list of symbols and notations, you can refer to the official BPMN website here.

Image: Business Process Incubator

With this, BPMN diagrams are probably best used when you need to share a piece of process map idea with external stakeholders, such as vendors and partners.

SIPOC diagram

A SIPOC diagram, also known as a high-level process map, focuses on the main tasks of a process. You can think of it as a summary of only the key highlights of your process.

SIPOC diagrams are based on the SIPOC model – Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, Customers. Typically, you should only list 5 to 6 key activities under each SIPOC component.

Image: Six Sigma Study

You can use SIPOC maps when:

  • You’re at an early planning stage, and would like to set the goals, overall framework or the major steps involved in your process
  • You want to review a major process journey starting from the suppliers all the way to the end users
Data Flow Diagram

Data flow charts primarily focus on the flow of information in a process.

Image: Visual Paradigm

How to create a process map?

1.  Identify your process or problem
  • What process are you creating? Or what is the problem in your current process?
  • Consider the process goals and define its start and end points.
2.  Brainstorm process steps
  • Gather relevant teams and employees together.
  • Discuss and list down the necessary tasks and roles for the process.
  • When discussing roles, consider if some tasks can be done using tech systems instead. You might want to label these tasks differently, and later consider if you’d like to automate them for greater process productivity.
3.  Organise your process steps in sequence
  • Draw a process map to organise the steps in chronological order.
4.  Review your process map
  • View the overall process and identify problematic areas or weak links.
  • Brainstorm solutions to resolve these inefficiencies.
5.  I’m all done, what’s next?

Depending on your preferences, you can choose to:

  • Share your process map to educate your team and future employees about the process flow
  • Collaborate with your teams via online process maps
  • Automate your process maps

The next step you choose will also determine what type of process mapping tools you should adopt for your organisation.

Process Mapping Tools

Amongst the sea of process mapping tools out there, it can be a pain to figure out which type to use, much less which brand’s. So we’ve categorised the different process mapping software as follows:

  • Flowchart maker — to create and visualise process maps
  • Visual collaboration tool — to create and collaborate with teams real-time on process maps
  • Workflow software — to create and execute process maps with automation

We’ve also collated some process mapping software examples below:

Forma

Forma is a no-code workflow software with a drag-and-drop interface for businesses to map out their processes in workflow diagrams.

As an added bonus, Forma’s workflow builder also has automation plugins to activate and automate the tasks listed in your process maps. 

Lucidchart

Lucidchart is a visual collaboration software where teams can come together on the platform to edit, comment and collaborate via their process maps in real-time.

It also provides BPMN symbols for users to create BPMN diagrams.

Image: Lucidchart

Sketchboard

Sketchboard is another visual collaboration software that prides itself for its informal flowchart styles.

The platform has a library of shapes and icons for users to create “fun” process maps, making it a nice tool for planning and drafting your process ideas.

Image: Sketchboard

Users can also make annotations and comments for real-time team collaborations.

Zen Flowchart

Zen Flowchart is a flowchart maker with a simple, minimalistic interface. Users can build process maps with their library of symbols. They can also export flowcharts for sharing.

Image: Zen Flowchart

In a nutshell, process mapping is a useful technique for many businesses to plan, define and visualise their processes.