Process mapping

The features of a high quality process are that it efficiently flows high value to customers and gets it right first time, every time.  Everything we do can be described in terms of a process but we don’t always perceive the work in that way and often are not able to ‘see’ what our processes are.

Process mapping is a powerful technique that allows us to visually represent the work we do. To show what is actually happening with our processes, not what we think, hope or should be happening, enabling us to locate areas of problem for further investigation and resolution.

Process maps can be drawn at varying levels of detail. Often a high level map will be the starting point and a section of the process is then focussed on in detail.  Your improvement project may well be considering a challenge in one portion of a much larger process and it is usually helpful to understand if that is the case, particularly when considering problem areas and their solutions - perhaps these lay outside of your direct span of control?  Mapping a process will help you to see that.

Whatever level you are looking to map your process at, you should be clear of the start and finish points of the process you are mapping and understanding.  Processes have a habit of not being that neat and tidy in real life, so you need to put some boundaries around what you are going to map.

There are many mapping techniques and methodologies and it is likely that you have been involved in this activity at some point in the past.  You may well be familiar with technique of using ‘post it’ notes on a large sheet of paper and this is essentially the core technique outlined below. 

The purpose of using post it notes as opposed to just drawing the process map is simple – you will never map it right first time!  You will find different perspectives on the process, variation in the methods and all manner of sub processes and oddities that become apparent as you get into the mapping – many of these are possible causes of problems.  Using post it notes allows you to easily move steps around, effectively drawing and re-drawing the process until there is a consensus on the current state.

The steps in the method are:

  1. Be clear about your start and end points for mapping

  2. Get the people who ‘do’ the work involved  - you need to be mapping based on actual activity not perceived

  3. Make the time to create the process map and gather together the materials that you will need (post it notes in different shapes & colours (to help with differentiating items), a big enough sheet of paper / wall to work on etc.)

  4. Define who the ‘customers’ of the process are.  It could be an internal team or department receiving something from your process or an external organisation or individual including service users, carers, GP’s etc.

  5. Be clear about the output the ‘customer’ is supposed to receive and any quality standards around it (time, specification etc.)

  6. Be clear about what the required inputs are to produce the output and who supplies these inputs (this will most often be in the form of information, but could be physical / tangible items)

  7. Identify the main activities undertaken in the process to transform the inputs into the required outputs; use the post it notes to represent the key activities and add other useful information such as documents, IT systems etc. 

    You may be wondering how much detail you need to get into and the answer is that it depends, but if you are breaking down tasks into work instruction level you’ve probably gone too far.

  8. Map the process by moving the post it notes around until the people who do the work feel that it represents the most realistic picture of the current process.  Don’t be tempted to start trying to ‘fix’ things at this point, just capture what is actually happening including any rework loops and related sub processes and don’t worry if it looks messy and confusing – it probably is!

    It is often helpful to capture who does the work and using ‘swim lanes’ is one approach to doing that (see picture below).

  9. Capture this map of the current state in some way – use the least time consuming method you can, preferably a photograph if you can see the detail, but otherwise you may need to re-draw it electronically.

The next steps are all about analysing the process map.  You may have already started to think about that when you were mapping.  You are looking to analyse at three levels:

  • Obvious process problems
  • Where ‘value’ is added
  • Process time analysis

Obvious process problems include:

Disconnects – steps where there are breakdowns in communications between teams, shifts, customers / suppliers etc.

Bottlenecks – points in the process where volume of work outstrips capacity, slowing everything down and causing delays

Redundant steps – steps in the process that duplicate activity or results elsewhere in the process

Rework loops – points where activity has to be re-carried out due to errors or delayed to collect missing information etc.

Decision / inspection points – steps in the process where delays or re-work are created through checking or authorisation etc.

These issues are all potential contributors to the overall challenge you are considering and critically do not add value to the people who use our services.  Eliminating these issues will make for a better process which in turn will make for a better experience for the people using our services.

Analysing your process for where ‘value’ is added is another way of understanding what the critical elements of the work are.  Each process step should be considered as to which category it falls into and whether it can be done better (value adding & value enabling) or how it may be eliminated (non-value adding) 

Value adding
These are the activities that are valuable from the person who uses the service’s perspective.  This is crucial as any activity can be justified given the right viewpoint, but we are providing the service to deliver for our service users and carers.  The criteria to judge whether a step is value adding are:

  1. The person who uses the service cares about the activity and / or would be (notionally) happy to pay for it if they knew we were doing it
  2. Some change is being made as a result of this activity that progresses the service – moving things around is not value adding
  3. This is the first and only time we are doing the work – fixes, rework, replacements etc. are not value adding as they are correcting mistakes previously made so are not value adding

All three of these criteria have to be met for the activity to be deemed value adding

Value enabling
This is a class of activities that allow you to do the work for the person who uses the service more quickly or effectively, safely etc. This class of activity will include meeting legal and regulatory requirements. As an example, inputting information into an IT system may not be value adding but it may be value enabling when the alternative is making a manual record that cannot be quickly retrieved when needed.

Non value adding
The sorts of activities that fit into this category are, well, almost everything else! These include obvious items such as delays, waiting and corrections as well activities that we normally believe to be necessary such as:

  • Inspections & checks
  • Setup and preparation
  • Transportation (people, things, information)
  • Internal reports

The final type of analysis we would suggest is that of process time and seeing where (and why) time is wasted. There are two components of process time: 

Work time – the time actually spent doing something as the service flows to the person using the service

Wait time – the time where someone or some thing (a referral etc.) waits for something (an action) to happen to it. Examples here are time spent in any sort of queue or batch waiting to be ‘processed’

Reducing process time (from either component) facilitates speed of receiving the services and / or productivity and this will generally be felt in a better experience by the person using the service.


Current state process maps don’t need to be neat and tidy – just helpful and accurately reflect what is actually happening!