How to map a process in 5 simple steps

Process mapping is used to create a visual map of a process or workflow. A process map is also known as a flowchart or a workflow diagram.

Being able to create a clear, understandable visualisation of a process is invaluable. It helps you analyse each step along the way — spotting opportunities for improvement. In turn, it can also help you automate mapped processes by laying out what happens, and when.

So, here’s how to map a process in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Identify

The first step is to identify the process or workflow you want to map. Typically, the prime candidates you should target for process mapping are:

  • Problematic processes you want to demystify
  • Complex processes you want to simplify and streamline
  • New processes you want to implement as efficiently as possible
  • Routine processes you want to automate right away

Step 2: Discover

After you’ve identified the processes you’d like to map, you’ll need to spend time understanding them.

This means discovering:

  • All the individual tasks the process takes
  • The people, teams, and departments involved in the process
  • The programs (if any) used
  • What data is collected, when, and why
  • Any decisions involved in the process

Finding out this information can involve talking to different departments to understand the entirety of the process. It’s the step with the most potential for leg work — but it’s also crucial.  

Step 3: Sequence

With everything you need to know about the process or workflow gathered, step three of ‘how to map a process’ is sequencing.

This is where you write out the process step by step, in order, from the start of the process/workflow through to the end. Be sure to add in the moments that documents or data get involved, any decisions that need to be made, and so on.

This is a bit like the draft version of your process map.

Step 4: Create your process map

Step four is the point where you create your process map.

To do this, you take your step-by-step sequence and map it into a flow chart format. These charts/maps use symbols and shapes to denote the different types of steps within a process.

How to map a process using symbols?

  • Ovals: use ovals to denote the start and the end of the process.
  • Rectangles: information in a rectangle is a step or activity in the process.
  • Arrows: use arrows to connect each task and show which order they are to flow in. In the case of a ‘decision’ or check, the process may split, and arrows will show what to do based on each possible outcome/answer.
  • Diamonds: a diamond shape is used to denote a decision. For example, an ‘if statement’ to decide if a condition is met for the process to continue or not.
  • Semicircles: a semi-circle/half-oval shape is used to show delays in the process.
  • Parallelograms: use parallelograms to show data input or output within the process.
  • Rectangle with a wavy base: denotes a document within a process. You can stack multiple of these shapes on top of each other to denote more than one document.
  • Rectangle containing two vertical lines: in the case of complex processes or workflows, there may be a sub-process involved that you map separately or elsewhere. In these cases, a rectangle containing two vertical lines is used, along with the label or name of the subprocess in question.

Use these symbols when drawing your flow chart, to categorise each step in the process you’re mapping.

Step 5: Analyse and improve

It’s tempting to stop there. You wanted to know how to map a process and now your process is mapped. However, step five is crucial for ensuring the quality of your process map. It’s also the first step to using the map.

So, with your process map created, complete it by analysing it. This means you need to run through it and check that it is correct and clear.

Then you can analyse to look for inefficiencies or problems, and start using your process map to make improvements.

Bonus step: Automate

With your processes mapped out, you’re also in a prime position to automate them. After all, you’ve laid everything out logically. You understand the process, and the steps it takes to complete it. You know what you need to optimise.

With this knowledge and clarity, you can automate mapped processes with comparative speed and ease.

How to map a process

Process mapping is a useful way to visualise a process. In turn, this creates more opportunities to improve, integrate, and automate.

And now you have a five-step guide to help you map any process you need to. So, what workflows will you visualise first?

Useful links

What not to automate

10 typical reasons for business process failure

A beginner’s guide to BPR