Process Maps

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What they are

First, some definitions. A process map (or flow chart) is a pictorial display of an entire process from a defined beginning to a defined end. Process mapping is the process of creating a process map. Process mapping helps to identify the actual flow or sequence of events in a process and helps those involved with the process reach agreement on how it actually works. Process maps show the complexity, problem areas, redundancy and unnecessary loops in a process and can “point” to where the process can be improved. It can also make it clearer where data may need to be collected in order to understand the frequency of an occurrence, which helps in determining the scope of problems. Process maps can also be used to design what the process could look like, aka, future state.

How to use them

  • Assign someone to capture the process, which can be done on a white board, using Post-Its placed on a wall, and/or using process mapping software (e.g., Microsoft Visio).
  • Determine, at the least, the beginning of the process, and the level of mapping – macro, intermediate, micro.
  • Use the symbols on the following page and record how the process is currently performed (current state) or how it could be performed (future state).
  • Use words or phrases that can be agreed upon by the group during the mapping.
  • Once done, make sure the map is complete. Do all the symbols have connectors? If there are decision symbols (diamonds), do they have “yes/no” decision steps? Do others not involved with the mapping process agree that the map is accurate?
  • Identify the problem areas (e.g., delays, duplication, unnecessary movement) and if necessary, collect data around the problem areas (e.g., How many times does that happen? How frequently are there errors in a particular step?).
  • Put the final map into some type of document either as a photo or within a process mapping software, such as Visio.


  • To the individual or group whose process is being mapped, this can feel a bit threatening and may feel like how they do their work is being criticized. What is important to remember is that most processes made sense at the time they were designed, but time is usually not kind to multi-step and cross-functional processes. Customer expectations change, technological capabilities change, et cetera. Examining processes on a regular basis is a great way to ensure that changes are working as effectively as possible.
  • If you hear someone say, “Oh, that happens a lot,” or “That almost always happens,” you probably need to collect some data to determine the frequency. But remember, just because it happens infrequently does not mean it’s not annoying.
  • To create an accurate process map, you must have those involved with the process at the table. Those peripherally involved will not know the ins and outs, and those steps must be captured to ensure accuracy of the process map.
  • Probably the most effective way to start is at a high level, at the proverbial 30,000-foot view. You can then start adding details as needed.
  • If using a white board, use dark markers, such as black, blue and brown. Other colors can be difficult to see from a distance.
  • Process mapping takes practice, but once you know how to do this, it is an extremely valuable tool.

Common symbols used