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Introduction to Process Mapping

by David Mainville on

Business process mapping is an essential tool used to design, document, and communicate the flow of work within an organization.

This article provides an overview of why organizations should create process maps.

Why Business Process Mapping

You would never consider heading out on an expedition without a map or building a house without a blueprint.

This analogy holds for process maps.  A process map is an essential tool to guide a company towards a successful outcome.

There are numerous use cases for business process mapping.  These include:

  • Identification of the end-to-end flow of work within a company
  • Showing the interaction between the company and its suppliers, customers, and other stakeholders
  • Enabling process improvement and optimization
  • Driving digital transformation by helping to identify automation opportunities
  • Supporting process audit, compliance, and governance activities
  • The onboarding of new employees

What is a Business Process?

No discussion on processes would be complete without first defining what a business process is.

A business process is a set of tasks that transform inputs into value-added outputs.

A business process lays out the sequence of tasks, identifies who is responsible for performing the work, who the suppliers and customers are, all necessary inputs and outputs, and any supporting tools and systems.

Processes can be an input or an output of other processes; for example, the HR Onboarding process may trigger finance, administration, or facilities departments’ processes.  

Understanding how processes interact with each other provides an end-to-end view, which is an essential first step in reducing waste and improving business outcomes.

It’s important to note that a process is not a procedure.  

A process guides the reader on “WHAT” to do, and “WHO” does it. Processes tend to be technology independent, cross-functional, and business-focused.  

A procedure guides the reader on HOW to do it.  Its technology-specific, role-specific and provides step by step work instructions.

Process mapping is not to be confused with creating procedures!

Process Mapping Techniques

You cannot create a process map in isolation.  

You need to bring together a subset of knowledgeable stakeholders that understand how the process works today.  That is because a substantial amount of work in an organization goes undocumented.

It is also importing to get cross-functional input into designing or improving a process to foster buy-in and adoption.

Facilitated workshops are a typical way to begin the mapping of a business process.  

A facilitator with excellent communication skills and experience in business process modeling and process improvement techniques should conduct the workshops, for example, someone with Six Sigma training.

The process modeling workshop can start with reviewing a SIPOC Diagram or other straw models to guide the discussion.

The facilitator captures process details on a whiteboard, yellow stickies, or directly in a process modeling tool, such as the Navvia Process Designer.

While mapping the process, the team should look for opportunities to improve process efficiency by reducing complexity or identifying automation opportunities.

Comprehensive business process mapping may require several workshops. Once mapped, the facilitator should validate the process with a broad cross-section of stakeholders.

Learn the 7 simple rules to design a process.

Process Mapping Examples 

There are several ways to document a business process map. These include:

The following is an example of a simple swim lane process map for an expense approval process.

Sample Expense Approval Process

In a swimlane diagram, we create a lane for each role in the process. We place each task (or step) in the corresponding lane, making it very easy to see who is responsible for the task.

There may also be a dedicated lane that shows any data, systems used, or other processes referenced.

Line of Visibility Enterprise Modeling (LOVEM) is a type of swimlane diagram. The top swim lane is always used to represent the customer or end-user and ensures that the focus is on supporting business outcomes, not on internal requirements.

Business Process Modeling Notation is another prevalent form of creating process maps.  It is a potent tool that allows analysts to capture processes consistently.

A downside is that there are well over 100  different shapes in the BPMN standard, and may prove to be confusing to a typical business user.  Here is a link to a BPMN 2.0 poster created by the “Berliner BPM-Offensive” and is available for download for free.

Regardless of the process mapping method you choose, the goal should be to create consistent, concise, complete, and, most importantly, easy to understand documents.

The Navvia Process Designer offers a powerful design tool with out-of-the-box process templates for ITIL, COBIT, and ServiceNow® processes.

Process Capability

What is meant by process capability? Technically, it is a statistical tool to measure if your processes are deviating from desired outcomes. This method is critical when attempting to control heavily automated manufacturing processes.

In IT Service Management, we look at process capability from the perspective of the process having all the right controls in place.  

For example; is the process defined, does it have ownership, is it well established in the organization, is it being measured and improved?

ITSM Maturity Assessment Model

An ITSM Process Maturity Assessment can be used to assess process capability.

There are two popular methods for performing an ITSM process maturity assessment.  The first is the Capability Maturity Model (CMMi) developed by Carnegie Mellon University and administered by ISACA.  

The second is the international standard ISO/IEC 15504 (which has been superseded by ISO/IEC 33001). 

Both measure capability on a scale of 0-5, with five being the most capable/mature. Here is a definition of the various levels.


Process Capability Levels

An experienced assessor should conduct the process capability assessment.

Assessments consist of interviewing stakeholders, observing the processes in action, evaluating process tools and documentation, and collecting data via standardized assessment questionnaires.

The assessor should validate their observations with stakeholders before compiling their findings and recommendations.

Assessors can use an ISO15505 heat map to share observations with stakeholders.  Here is an example of a process capability heat map.


Sample ISO 15504 Heat Map

The heat map identifies areas where the process is deficient.

Think of a heat map like a series of hurdles. To move up a capability level, you need to be “largely” or “fully” compliant in the preceding level.

The assessor derives the score from a set of standardized questions.

The Navvia Process Designer offers a powerful assessment tool that utilizes the CMMi and ISO/IEC 15504 capability assessment models.

The Navvia Process Designer includes hundreds of out-of-the-box process assessment questionnaires for ITIL, COBIT, and ISO20000 processes.

Process Improvement

Defining and implementing a process is not a one-time affair.

Business requirements change over time, and business processes need to reflect those changes.

It is also essential to validate the business process is practical, efficient, and adding value to the organization.

Process improvement is a discipline focused on continuously optimizing business processes through incremental improvements to process performance and end-user experience.

Process Improvement Techniques

There are various process improvement techniques available to the organization.

  • Process capability assessments, discussed in the previous section, can help identify deficiencies and gaps in the processes.
  • Process mapping is essential as you cannot improve a business process unless you understand it.
  • SIPOC Diagrams are a great starting point for process improvement. A SIPOC Diagram identifies the suppliers, inputs, activities, outputs, and customers of a business process, all on a single page.  Here is an example of a SIPOC Diagram.


SIPOC Diagram Example

    • Value Stream Mapping is a tool used to identify and eliminate waste in a process. Starting with a SIPOC Diagram, you decompose the process into its constituent steps. You then quantify the processing time and wait time for each step. The goal is to determine the cycle time for each step, then look for ways to improve.
    • Kaizen and the Plan, Do, Check, and Act (PDCA) cycle is a technique that calls for process improvement in every area of the business.
    • Six Sigma is a set of process improvement techniques made famous by Jack Welch during his time at General Electric. A key component of Six Sigma is the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control) cycle.
    • Lean Methodology is an approach designed to maximize customer value while minimizing waste. Simply, lean means creating more value for customers with fewer resources.

Don’t wait till your processes fail you.  There are many tools and techniques available for process improvement, and it is perfectly acceptable to combine approaches from different disciplines.

Process improvement boils down to continuously evaluating your processes’ effectiveness and implementing improvements based on changing business needs.  

Business Process Management

This article discussed process mapping and the various techniques to assess, design, and improve processes. 

Business Process Management (BPM) is the discipline that brings it all together into a repeatable practice.

Like any discipline, Business Process Management requires focus and governance, and one way to achieve this is by creating a Business Process Office (BPO).

Effective BPM requires specific skill sets, skills not typically embedded in the business units.

Think of a Business Process Office as a “Swat Team” helping the business units design, improve, and implement their processes.  

Business Process Management Skills

Skills can include:

  • Business process analysts (process discovery and process mapping)
  • Technical analysts (process implementation)
  • Process assessment and governance 
  • Training 
  • Communications 
  • Organizational change 
  • Program management

Do you have a Service Management Office? Many of the SMO skills are directly transferable to Business Process Office.  Learn more about how an SMO can drive digital transformation.

In Conclusion

Process mapping and the overarching practice of Business Process Management is more important than ever before.

Organizations, to deliver superior customer experiences, are embarking upon Digital Transformation initiatives. COVID 19 has also driven companies to transform how they provide services.  Just be aware of the key reasons why digital transformations fail.

Processes are analogous to blueprints and are essential to building any successful Digital Transformation.  

Navvia's Live DemoOriginally published Oct 13, 2020 14:47, updated May 27, 2022

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