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Business Process Maps

Business process maps serve many needs. Businesses often need to define their processes in order to understand them and then improve them or integrate them with other processes.

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Process maps help determine where & how a process begins as well as all the steps in between. By learning the various types and methods of process mapping you can become adept at setting project scopes, identifying value add and non value add steps, identifying problems in a process etc etc.

The number of things that are enabled by process maps is extensive and you will begin to understand how best to use them by learning about them. This module covers the following elements of business process maps

  • Process Map Symbols
  • High Level Process Maps
  • Detailed or Multi-Level Process Maps
  • Functional Process Maps

Process Map Symbols

Effective process maps use a set of symbols consistently in order to convey the right information successfully. For High level and Multi-Level process maps the symbols are fairly consistent. The following are four symbols and their meanings. These are used most often and universally.

Business Process Map Start and End Shape - Oval


The oval shape when used in process mapping indicates that a process is beginning or ending (initiating or terminating).

Business Process Map Action - Square


The square or rectangle shape when used in process mapping indicates a process step or action.

Business Process Map Decision - Diamond


The Diamond when used in process mapping indicates a decision point in the process.

Business Process Map Direction - arrow


The arrow indicates the direction to and from the step or decision, all decisions have at least two directions "from" them.

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High Level Business Process Maps

Most high level business process maps are also referred to as flow charts. The key to a high level process map is to over simplify the process being depicted so that it can be understood in it's most generic form.

As a general rule, high level process maps should be 4-6 steps and no more. Below is an oversimplified version of a high level process map for cooking a 10lb prime rib for a dozen holiday guests.

High Level Process Map Example

As many of you know, this process is not as simple a stated but as a matter of understanding, framing the process at a high level and representing it in such a way that others can understand it is the objective of a high level process map.

Business process maps work in much the same way. With high level perspectives of business processes, practices and procedures people can understand at a general level the results of a process, what broad steps it takes to produce results etc.

Additionally, high level process maps can provide a means to set parameters or limitations on a project (often referred to as scope).

Take for example the process noted above. If one were to be challenged with shortening the time it takes to cook the meat without sacrificing it's flavor and tenderness you might consider the production process of a butcher or manufacturer.

A butcher could cut the meat smaller or thinner which will reduce necessary cooking time. BUT! if the scope of the improvement is limited to the beginning and end depicted by the process map above then the solution may be very different.

Detailed Business Process Maps

Detailed business process maps or multi-level maps take the high level map much further. Detailed maps are just what you might think, detailed!

A good guideline used to help create a level two map is to take each step in the high level map and break each step down another 2-4 steps (no more).

Repeating this process (level 3, level 4 etc.) until there are no more levels will yield a detailed map that has "multi-levels"

Some detailed maps are 2 or 3 levels deep, others can be 5-6 levels deep. Obviously, the deeper the more complex and the more burdensome.

Let's break the prime rib cooking process down to a level two process map...

Detailed Business Process Map

As you can see, we've taken the high level and added 2-4 steps (or none if appropriate) to each step.

The result is a 13 step map with 2 decision points and possibly 2 rework loops. It's easy to see how getting a little more detailed can reveal challenges and opportunities.

Functional Business Process Maps

Another method to impart more information and isolate problem areas or potential opportunities is to create a "functional" or "swim lane" process map.

The functional map adds dimension to the high level or detailed map. The dimension added is identifying which function, job or responsible party performs the step or makes the decision.

Below is an example (generic) of a functional map. Note that functions are identified in horizontal "lanes" and each process step is placed in the appropriate lane based on which function performs the step.

Functional Business Process Map

Creating your Process Maps

For the most part, any word processing software used by your organization will have some degree of shapes and symbols that can be organized into a process map.

Some of the common programs provided by Microsoft which are used to create maps are PowerPoint, Excel, Word and Visio (the maps in this module are from .ppt and Visio). A quick search via the internet will also yield a host of other programs designed to help you generate your business process maps.

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