Some guidelines for business process mapping

  • Producing a business process map is an exploration and you cannot predict what will be found during this activity. Sometimes things are found that others may prefer were kept hidden. Don’t jump to any conclusions without good data to back them up and keep your trusted key stakeholders informed
  • A map represents understanding of the process but that understanding may be subjective and miss out information that other people would see as relevant and important.  Therefore building an effective business process map is an iterative and collaborative process that should provide only as much detail as a user requires.
  • A process map is a graphical representation of activities. That graphical presentation can stimulate the recovery of memories and ideas from the right-hand side of the brain in the way that a spreadsheet never will.
  • The most effective process maps are produced not by one person sitting at a computer terminal, but by a group of people collaboratively putting post-it notes on the wall and sharing and developing their knowledge of how the process works now and should work in the future. This ensures that the different learning and thinking styles of visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic can engage all members of the group. That physical activity also raises the energy in the room to a higher level than can be achieved by a group of people sat around the table whilst somebody creates a process map on a projector. In addition, where a cross functional group of people is involved in the mapping, it helps break down barriers and build understanding between different groups.
  • While collaborative mapping in the same room is ideal, tools such as elements.cloudibm blueworks and make online process mapping a very effective second choice, especially when participants are in multiple locations.
  • Collaborative online mapping tools also have the advantage of allowing people to return to the maps and add comments and modifications as more thoughts occur to them (sometimes in the middle of the night as the subconscious mind continues to work – unconscious cognition is the smart name for it!). Professional tools will provide version control and revision approval so that any changes are managed with an audit trail
  • Collaborative development of maps means that they have to be simple. BPMN is not a good choice as there are too many symbols to choose from (Over 300) and it uses terms such as throwing and catching which are not part of everyday process language. Using a process notation as simple as post-it notes to understand or create the process is essential. Good notation examples are IDEF0/3

(try and find a modelling tool that uses that notation!) or universal process notation (UPN) as used in this example from

This simple looking model is quick to read and contains a lot of information. Instead of using swim lines, the process owner is shown at the bottom of the shape, while a paper clip shows attached documents and blue triangle on top left shows a subprocess. Unlike BPMN, no reference documents are needed to create or read the process.

However, the most important function of any map is to communicate a shared understanding. How good are the process maps in your company?