What is Business Process Mapping?

For years, primarily large enterprises have used process mapping, in conjunction with process mapping tools to identify gaps in existing workflows, regulatory or compliance issues, or just missed opportunities altogether, but the term process mapping isn’t necessarily familiar to everyone.

If the term process mapping is new to you, or you just want to know more about what it is, what’s involved, and how it can help your company, you’ve come to the right place. Here’s the foundation of process mapping to help your business improve internal processes and achieve greater operational efficiency.

What is process mapping?

The idea of process mapping, through the use of flow process charts, was introduced to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1921 by an engineer named Frank Bunker Gilbreth. It was further expanded on between the 1930’s and 1940’s, before a symbol system to chart the flow of information was finally adopted by the ASME in 1947.

Process mapping is a powerful business process technique that uses the symbols in the chart below, to get a visual depiction of a business activity from start to finish. This technique traces each step in a process and identifies not only what is being done, but also by whom, where, when, how and even makes it possible to uncover why. For example, process mapping can help accounting departments identify and document how they process payments, while an HR department may use it to identify how they hire candidates.

What is the goal of process mapping?

Executives might use process mapping to gain more detailed insights into all operational processes and how each may be impacting company-wide goals and even other factors like compliance.  Overall, process mapping can ultimately help companies become more effective, efficient, and agile by providing a clear and comprehensive view into any or all workflows and potential problems.

Process map components

Process maps are fairly straightforward and easy to follow; it uses symbols for basic input, output, and step related components such as these key symbols, among others.

Note: there are additional workflow symbols

Basic process mapping steps

Here are some high-level basic process mapping steps you should know about. Keep in mind the who, what, where, when and how, as you go through each step to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.

Step 1: Determine the precise process that needs to be mapped (from start to finish) to avoid overlapping with other processes.

Step 2: Take time to walk through the process and discuss with all participants to get additional input.

Step 3: Sequence each activity within the process, as it occurs.

Step 4: Use the relevant flowchart symbols to create a process map.

Step 5: Verify with applicable participants that the process map is accurate.

Step 6: Finalize, document and share the process map and any additional information.

What types of process maps are there?

  • The basic top-down process flowchart is the simplest type of process flowchart that outlines activities in sequence as they occur, and is best suited for basic processes with more limited activity levels and involvement.

  • The deployment flowchart makes use of swim-lane charts to represent involvement from multiple departments in order to complete an end-to-end process. Each swim-lane shows how, when and where each person within each department or area is involved throughout a process.

  • A Detailed Flowchart can be used to augment either the basic or deployment flowcharts and provides additional detail within a process and its associated activities.

What’s the difference between process mapping and process modeling?

Process mapping is often confused with process modeling. Although they work in conjunction with each other, they are different and serve separate purposes. Process mapping is the first key step aimed at identifying and documenting tasks or activities within a business process. It steps through an end-to-end process, including what is being done, who is involved, as well as when and where.

Process mapping aids in supporting business process modeling, which is intended to be a tool to maximize efficiencies within the business process. Business process modeling involves looking at the processes from a strategic view to ensure alignment with company-wide goals, where processes can then be re-engineered and optimized for improved efficiency.