Also known as: flow charts/diagram, swim lane mapping
Process mapping and flow charts are used interchangeably and refer to creating a diagram that illustrates process. The actual difference between these two is that process mapping refers to the actual process of creating a diagram and the diagram itself is called a flow chart.
Process maps are flow diagrams (often detailed) used to create a pictorial workflow with the goal of gaining a clearer understanding of how a process and its parallel processes work.
The development of the process map is a team effort that will educate everyone on the reality of the process and most often how little of the total process is value added. Typically, there are obvious improvements that become evident during the mapping process. Process mapping isn’t learnt, rather you process map to learn. Process mapping provides a reference for discussion on how things get done.
Process mapping helps to analyse and improve processes by:
Common symbols are used to represent the different types of actions or steps in a process.
Materials required: large sheets of paper, whiteboard or wall, pens, post-it notes or cards.
When creating a process map for the first time, the best way to get started is with a marker pen, different coloured post-it notes, and a giant sheet of paper or a white board or wall. Using post-it notes will allow you to move around the steps in the process. Each party involved in the process should have uniquely coloured post-it notes to visualise who owns which step in the process.
Start your process map with the defined starting point using a post it labelled as an oval at the top corner.
Keep adding in the identified steps in your process to your chart. Each step should be connected to the one before it with a line. With each step, describe what it represents until you reach the end of the process. The arrows between the steps indicate the transfer of information or flow.
Top-down process maps illustrate a bird’s eye view, identifying the major steps of a process and detailing the sub-actions of each step along the way. The top down process map is designed with five or six major steps horizontally across the top, with departmental or role specific sub actions below. A lot of processes can be represented in four or five boxes illustrating the major steps or activities. Top down process mapping is a good idea as it forces consideration of what the most important steps in the process are.
Swim lane maps are also flow charts that diagram a process from start to finish, but also divide the steps into categories (lanes). This to help distinguish which services, departments, teams or individuals are responsible for each set of actions. The lanes are columns and keep actions visually separated. Since the lanes make the flow chart look like the lanes of a swimming pool, this type of diagram is often called a swim lane diagram.
Swim lane mapping makes responsibilities clearer than regular process mapping and helps to identify bottlenecks within your service. When looking at processes, it can be helpful to see who is responsible and this can help to speed up the process of correcting inefficiencies and waste.
Swim lane maps take longer to develop, but they are helpful in identifying time traps; those processes that take the longest amount of time. Swim lane maps also show capacity constraints and highlight where resource gets bogged down due to workload.
When creating a swim lane map for the first time, the best way to get started is with a marker, different coloured post-it notes, and a giant sheet of paper or a white board/wall. Using post-it notes will allow you to move around the steps in the process. Each party involved in the process should have uniquely coloured post-it notes to visualise who owns which step in the process.
Lay it out
Identify the lanes and decide what divisions you need represented by swim lanes and draw vertical (or horizontal) lines to divide each section, or “swim lane” and then label these.
Start your chart with the defined starting point using a post-it labelled in an oval at the top of the appropriate swim lane.
Keep adding in the identified steps in your process to your chart. Each step should be connected to the one before it with a line. To add steps in the same swim lane, draw from top down. To add a step in another division go from left to right. With each step, describe what it represents until you reach the end of the process. The arrows between the steps indicate the transfer of information or flow.
Check and adjust
Each process map has its strengths and weaknesses. As identified above, the top down process map addresses the major steps and is the easiest to develop, however this form of process mapping may not provide your team with sufficient detailing for some purposes.
For a more in-depth understanding use detailed process mapping as this includes the steps and activities as well as including decision points. For situations where value can be added by understanding the department/services/individuals who are involved in specific steps and activities, we recommend swim lane mapping.
Remember process maps are flexible and are made to be modified. Process maps are snapshots of the way things are currently done. Processes change, improvements and efficiencies can be constantly discovered. Process maps should be reviewed and updated to keep pace. Prioritise these update sessions to ensure your team has an evolving means to drive continuous improvement within your service.