What You Ought to Know About Business Process Mapping

In our last few posts, we discussed what business science is and how it relates to the landscape of American Business. Now, we will begin to dive into some of the business science tools.


As a recap, Business Science revolves around the integration of process, data/systems and people. A natural first step for implementing business science is to begin mapping your processes. The purpose of Business Process Mapping or Flow Charting is to visually display the activities it takes to complete a set of tasks.

Why would anyone want to do this? Processes are not mapped because they are fun to map, but they are meant to drive knowledge from a visual perspective. As it turns out, humans are visual beings. Mapping a process is usually done to help launch a process improvement project (optimization), understand a problem that has been occurring (monitoring), drive work standards or to define how work is to be done (process design).


A Business Process Map can be identified as a series of shapes with text that are connected by a series of arrows. The shapes illustrate different actions in a process. The arrows represent flow of the process.



Below are the generally accepted shapes used:

Square – The square represents a forward moving process step.

Circle/Oval – Represents the start or end of the process.

Diamond – Represents a decision point in a process.

In some circles these shapes are used as well:

Rhombus – Used to represent a data transfer or data only step.

D-Shape – This is used to represent a delay in a process.

Triangle – Used to represent inventory or buffer stock.

Occasionally, process activities can be laid out by function. This is done by creating lanes of functions involved in the process. These lanes are usually referred to as “swim lanes”. This helps to visualize who does what part of a process.

It is important when mapping a process to define the start and end of a process (scope) and the level at which the process is being mapped. Processes can be thought of as layers. There is a high macro level flow (usually less than seven aggregated steps), transactional/functional level (captures each step, but not how that step is completed) and task level (detail of how a specific step is completed). These levels do not necessarily fit all maps. Often, processes can have multiple layers of processes that drive a specific step. The rule of thumb is to get to the level of detail that pertains to the initiative.

Last, if at all possible, lay out data on the process map. This could be in the form of cycle times, inventory levels, queue times, transportation time and any other important metrics to your business. The whole goal is efficiency. To find out if you are being efficient, you need to measure.

How to Map a Process:

There are a couple of steps required to map a process.

1.       Define the project and reason for mapping (process improvement, design, problem). Gain senior level blessing of initiative if necessary.

2.       Form the cross functional project team (used to drive the initiative).

3.       Define the scope of the process and level of mapping (based on what you are trying to solve).

4.       Gather the team and perform process observations. Walk the process, observe multiple cycles and collect data such as error rates, inventory, cycle times, etc..

5.       Lay out the process map as a team.

6.       Validate the map by getting outside input or re-walk the process.

7.       Depending on your project, will depend on what happens next. You could brainstorm pain points, use to re-engineer a process for efficiency or implement your design.


Business Process Mapping is extremely popular for various reasons:

1.       It is simple to get started.

2.       Provides a great way to visualize and communicate a process.

3.       The process mapping exercise often leads to surprises in the work actually being done.

4.       Great for showing hand offs between departments.

5.       Excellent for pinpointing where failures are occurring in a process.


This tool is not a one stop shop of benefits. Some disadvantages are:

1.       Outliers and opinions/bias often make their way into the map.

2.       Often difficult to map at the intended level of detail.

3.       Tends to lead to oversimplification of a process.

4.       Much effort is often put into mapping rather than using the mapping tool as a method for process improvement.

5.       Process maps can become monuments of failed initiatives.

6.       Uses a top down approach.


Business process mapping is a powerful tool that has been around for a long time in business circles. It is extremely powerful to visualize a process and communicate that process. Usually most projects or improvement initiatives will begin with mapping the process. The tool however does have its flaws. It is not a perfect approach and often is at the mercy of the subjectivity of the project team members. Think about your business or area of work. Can you lay out a standard flow that is followed every time? Are there hidden parts of a process you do not know about? Process producing a lot of problems? Start mapping it today!

Remember Business Science Solutions offers a free 2 hour consultation to see how we can help optimize your processes! Fill out the contact form today!