Business Process Mapping

Business Process Mapping (BPM) has been used by organizations for decades to identify gaps, problems, and missed opportunities in existing workflows. First employed as engineering standards, BPM plays a critical role in Lean and other continuous improvement programs that span a wide range of industries and workflows—particularly knowledge work.

What Is Business Process Mapping?

Business Process Mapping is a framework for creating visualizations of work processes that show the relationship between the various steps and inputs from the initial stages of planning to deliver the end product or service.

BPM uses a system of universal symbols and mapping techniques to make workflows visible in order to identify exactly what’s going on at any given stage in the process. You’ll have a simple visualization that allows you to immediately understand whether the process aligns with organizational objectives—or not. This practice traces each step in the process and identifies the work being done, who is responsible, what tools will be used, and how to measure success.

With Business Process Mapping, you will develop a detailed understanding of everything that makes up a process so that it can be improved to deliver a better outcome. In Lean, Business Process Mapping plays a critical role in eliminating waste and driving incremental improvements.

What Are Business Process Mapping Symbols?

While there are roughly 30 official Business Process Mapping symbols you can use to map your business processes, here’s a list of some of the more common shapes you’ll find on most organizations’ maps.

  • Event. Events are triggers that start, change, or complete a process and are represented on the map as circles.
  • Activity/Task. A rectangle with rounded edges represents activities and tasks.
  • Participant. Depicted as a stick person, a participant symbol shows a person or system that performs a specific task or input.
  • Flow. Flow represents the relationship between two steps and is depicted as an arrow.
  • Gateway. Gateways, or decision points, are shown as diamonds and indicate that a decision needs to be made.

What Are the Steps in Business Process Mapping?

Business Process Mapping can be used to support a long list of goals from streamlining new hire onboarding to eliminating waste during production.

No matter your goal, process mapping typically breaks down into the following steps:

  • Identify a process. Identify the process that needs to be mapped. What is being mapped and why? What are you hoping to achieve?
  • Put together a team. Your BPM team should include people who are actively involved in the process under review, plus internal subject matter experts and leadership.
  • Gather the information. Capture information about the “who, what, where, and when” behind the process. Here, you might collect data from your team of stakeholders or customers, alongside observing the process in action.
  • Map the process. Take the information you’ve gathered and start mapping the process including events, participants, tasks, activities, steps, and the connections between them. For simpler processes, you might use a white board or sticky notes, while more complex workflows might be easier to map with software.
  • Analyze the map. From there, you’ll want to study the map to determine which areas can be improved. Here, you’ll be looking for waste, redundancies, and anything else that might be causing problems.
  • Develop and implement new methods. Once you’ve identified potential improvements in the workflow, the next step is to start looking for solutions.

Benefits of Business Process Mapping

  • Define roles. Process mapping allows you to identify who is involved in a process, their responsibilities, and their relationship to the rest of the team/organization.
  • Solve problems. Business Process Mapping allows companies to quickly spot issues within any given process. Visual maps help reviewers identify issues such as bottlenecks or misalignment, what will go wrong, and how to get things back on the right track.
  • Identify and manage risks. Creating a visualization of your process can help you uncover potential legal, regulatory, and security risks.
  • Standardize processes. BPMs allow you to visualize and sequence tasks so that they can be streamlined and improved. Long term, BPM allows you to duplicate and reuse maps, allowing you to standardize processes and ensure best practices are applied each time you start something new.

How to Practice Business Process Mapping

Business Process Management helps organizations create a continuous improvement cycle consisting of the following steps: model, implement, execute, monitor, and optimize—using visual mapping techniques to understand and improve workflows.

While mapping methods vary based on business process and goal, here are some tips for getting the best results from your BPM efforts:

  • Map with a clear focus. Stick to one process and one goal per map. What are you hoping to achieve and what steps/tasks will get you there?
  • Validate your maps. After you’ve drawn up your map, you’ll want to review them with the stakeholders who participated in the process to make sure that you’ve got it right.
  • Collaborate. Make sure that you review process maps with the team, accounting for any potential risks/limitations/requirements before making any final decisions.
  • Avoid making changes until processes are fully mapped. Wait until all of the information is in place before moving forward with a solution. Otherwise, you risk making decisions that may not reflect what’s actually happening.
  • Apply BPM to the right types of processes. Finally, not every process is worth mapping. For example, processes with too few steps may not offer enough of an impact to justify the effort.

We developed this Business Process Mapping course to help knowledge workers map and improve information flows to eliminate waste and deliver a better end-product to the consumer. Watch the first installment in the series for free to learn more about this course.


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