Process maps (or flowcharts) are a way of displaying a process visually. Quite often people find it easier to understand the flow of a process through a diagram rather than a written description.
There are many process mapping frameworks which use various shapes, symbols and connectors to describe the flow of information. The most recognisable by far is the ISO (International Standards Organisation) 5807:1985 standard. We will look at this in a little more detail below.
Process mapping basics
To get started with process mapping you only need three symbols, but you can add to these as you gain confidence and learn more about the ISO 5807 standard.
|Terminal - Indicates the beginning and end of a process. The words start and end are usually written inside the symbol.
|Process activity - Represents a step in the process where an an activity will take place. A verb and a noun are often written inside the symbol to describe the activity taking place.
|Decision - Indicates a decision point which is normally a yes/no or true/false statement.
|Connector - A line with an arrow is used to connect each item on the process map, it represents the flow of information or work in the process.
The cup of tea example is a great starting point but what if there are other people involved in the process? How will you know who’s responsible for what? You could add their names to each item but this will add a lot of unnecessary clutter.
A very simple way to do this is by dividing the map into rows and naming each row after the responsible role. You then place each element of the process map into the relevant row.
Here’s an example, click to enlarge.
Relationship with other tools
Process maps are part of a complementary toolset which includes the SIPOC and the Work Instructions. These tools look at the process at different levels of detail.
Below I’ve explained the relationship between them in terms of a visit to a city. There’s a lot going on in a city and depending on what your objectives are when visiting you’re going to need different types of information.
A very simple summary of a process. It outlines the key steps, inputs and outputs.
Imagine looking at a simple tourist map of a city. It describes the highlights of the city and gives you an understanding of what goes on in the city.
A visual representation of the process but more detailed than the SIPOC.
Imagine zooming into the city map and planning a journey from one district to another. The process map shows you the exact route to take on your journey.
A step by step guide explaining how to perform the process.
Once you’re on your journey between the city districts you might find it useful to have turn by turn instructions, especially if you’ve never been on that journey before.
Process Map Symbols
A list of common process mapping symbols in PDF format.