How to do Workflow Process Mapping

A company with perfectly streamlined business processes is as scarce as hen’s teeth. There’s always inefficiency. Always. Evaluating these processes is crucial if you want a high-performing organization. But, how to find the sticking points? Workflow process mapping…

Why automation is the cheapest option & the cost of doing nothing.
Your business becomes irrelevant. Your competitors leave you standing. You’re done.

A process map helps you optimize your entire end-to-end workflow. Start up or established business, process mapping will improve your organization. Whether it’s to train new staff, confirm compliance, or to find ways to improve – automation, for instance – mapping your workflows will increase efficiency and reduce risk.

What’s workflow process mapping?

Ever have a cracking idea but no clue as to how to start the ball rolling? 

You need a plan. Process mapping will help you get your head around organizing the plan. A visual representation of the workflow will highlight pain points and areas that need improvement.

Process mapping will also help with team brainstorms, decision making, project planning, and newbie onboarding.

The entire process is represented in a map, flowchart, workflow diagram…

Each step – objectives, resources, stakeholders, etc. – is a break down of a complex process, designed to show how a process works in a concise visual way.

What’s workflow process mapping used for?

Map your workflows and your team will have the full picture of all your business’ activities. Their understanding of potential workflow blocks will help them reach their goals more efficiently.

This end-to-end vision will show who’s responsible for each step, the resources needed to complete a step, and the end goal. Workflow mapping represents the real world. While you may think you know your processes inside out – a couple of your team involved, and four to five steps – mapping your workflow could reveal that there are 30 steps and 10 people involved.

Visualizing the steps in your workflows helps you see the process as a whole, step by step. This makes it easier to find sticking points that can be improved or removed.

Businesses looking to improve their services, whether it’s speeding up time to market, eliminating errors, or improving onboarding, map their workflows to find data that will support their intentions. Mapping is also used by businesses looking to perform an audit or sale.

For instance, if you’re considering automating your processes and need to convince your boss, mapping your workflow could demonstrate how slow a process is, or how many errors are occurring due to human error. That’s time lost and money down the drain.

Workflow mapping isn’t restricted to after a process kicks off. It will also help you find the most efficient approach. Creating a document to support your standard operating procedures – SOPs. Instructions to guide your team on how to perform a task accurately, such as one that has to conform to regulatory standards. Workflow maps also support the ISO 9000 quality standard.

Map your workflows to… 

  • Find inefficiencies
  • Have a 360° view
  • Delegate responsibilities
  • Communicate transparently
  • Speed up decision making
  • Enable risk management
  • Increase employee satisfaction
  • Drive performance
  • Meet compliance

What’s Six Sigma?

The Six Sigma methodology is a statistical measure that shows how far a process is from being perfect. Developed by Motorola in the 80s, it’s a methodology that’s used by many industries around the world to improve processes by reducing errors and increasing efficiency. Leading to improved customer satisfaction, increased profits, and lower costs.

The Six Sigma process of DMAIC has five phases…

  • Define
  • Measure
  • Analyze
  • Improve
  • Control

Types of workflow process maps

There are several different workflow maps, depending on your business needs…

SIPOC diagram

A SIPOC diagram – suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, customers – identifies the key players and elements in a process. The first step to drawing up a detailed process map.

Example SIPOC diagram for creating and launching a landing page. Includes who supplies the process inputs, what inputs are needed, main steps in process, process outputs, who receives the outputs.

Marketing SIPOC diagram showing the process behind creating and launching a landing page.

High-level map

A high-level overview of a process shown in a few steps. This type of process or workflow map is ideal if you’re presenting to the boss, who doesn’t need to see all the tiny details.

Relationship map

Similar to a high-level map, the relationship map identifies process participants.

Detailed map

Clue’s in the name…

This map contains all the details of all the steps, including subprocesses. It takes time and people to draw up a good detailed process map. It shows decision points, and inputs/outputs of each step. This comprehensive map is the best for highlighting inefficiencies.

Swimlane map

The swimlane map is about the people and their roles in a process.

A swimlane map divides a process into lanes for each responsibility, with each person designated a role in the process, and the interaction between.

For large processes, whether company-wide or per team, a swimlane map is best for training teams about their roles in a process. Encouraging accountability and finding inefficiencies.

Value stream map

A value stream map is employed in lean management – optimizing processes by reducing time spent on non-value-added tasks – to show the progress of a process. For example, delivering a product or service to customers.

While a value stream map is more complicated than other process maps, the details it provides – waste, inefficiencies, opportunities for improvement – will ensure that when delivering a product, quality standards are met. 

Map your workflows – best practices

While you can customize your workflow maps to suit your requirements, there are some best practices I’d like to share that’ll ensure you get the best out of them…

Workflow map planning

  • Establish the start and end of the process
  • Determine the objectives of the process

Creating your workflow map

  • Start at the end and finish at the beginning
  • Include details of every step
  • Use process mapping symbols for universal understanding

Reviewing your workflow map

  • Collect feedback from everyone in the process
  • Map your current workflow honestly, not through rose-tinted spectacles

Workflow process mapping tips

While there’s workflow management software on the market, a pack of Post-it notes and a wall will be more than enough to kick off. Here are some tips on how to create a process map from scratch…

Identify a problem or process to map

Don’t get overwhelmed trying to map every single process in your business. Look at areas of your company that are underperforming. Failing to achieve goals. Missing payment due dates. Having to pay late delivery penalties.

Example of manual accounts payable workflow process map showing start to finish, with possible routes.

Example of a simple accounts payable process map.

Determine your objectives. The goal is to…

  • Identify people responsible for each process
  • Understand which events occur at each step in the process
  • Show each step clearly
  • Look for bottlenecks or stumbling blocks
  • Identify areas to improve

I’d recommend chatting with your team and other stakeholders who play a role in the process so you can accurately cover all the steps and decide the level of detail needed. 

Activities listed, now it’s time to arrange them in the correct order, until the entire process is shown from start to finish. 

Visualize, but keep it simple

Don’t be worried if when you start, you’ve a wall covered with Post-it notes, or an untidy Miro board. You’ll be adding/removing steps, changing the order, swapping out the colors, stopping for multiple coffee breaks.

Choose colors for different steps, pain points, roles, etc. Don’t be tempted to add connectors until you’re 100% sure you’ve mapped your process accurately. 

Once you’re satisfied, you can create a digital version of your map in PowerPoint, Excel, etc.

Use swimlanes to show roles

A swimlane diagram will help you understand a complex process and the workflow. Creating a clear visual of how the different teams, individuals, and roles work together to reach the objective.

Example of swimlane workflow process map. Four columns. One for each team/person involved in the process. With directional arrows showing the processes in each lane.

Swimlane process map example.

Listing responsibilities can make it easier to find issues in your process, whether a problem is down to a step, team, or person.

Is it the entire process that’s failing? Or, is it a person in the wrong role?

Collect feedback

You can’t create an accurate process map on your own. You must include everyone involved. Your team, other teams involved in the workflow, even your boss.

Could be you’re using the wrong tools. Could be you’re not using any tools and you should automate the entire process workflow.

Automate your workflows for greater efficiency

Workflows mapped, it’s time to optimize them. First up, which can be automated? If a workflow involves multiple emails to vendors or other teams, automate. Sticky approval process? Automate.

Now would be a good time to check out the Best Document Workflow Software & Guide.

Automated workflows are possible across industries. As an example, let’s look at the manual accounts payable process…

Manual accounts payable workflow

From the original invoice to payment, every step of the manual AP workflow can be automated…

  • Invoice data capture
    Data from the invoice is captured – vendor name, invoice number, goods purchased, cost per item, money due, payment terms.
  • Verification
    Data entered into ERP system, then matched with the purchase order. 3-way matching is necessary if delivery receipts are included.
  • Approvals
    Invoice is passed through the approval process, with each person validating before payment can be made. Any discrepancy in the invoice – quantity received doesn’t match quantity ordered – means the accounts receivable has to back track to the vendor or receiving department.
  • Payment
    Payment is made by AP team.
  • Payment recorded
    Payment is recorded in the accounting system.
  • Reporting
    Reports are created for budgeting planning, covering invoices paid during a specific period, items bought, vendors, etc.

Each step in the AP process involves multiple people. If any errors occur at any stage, the step has to be taken again. The chance of manual data entry errors is high. It’s a slow and painful process.

Meeting payment due dates is critical if you want to keep suppliers happy and avoid late payment penalties.

The accounts payable process can be automated and streamlined to ensure accuracy, consistency, and efficiency at every step in the process. A lack of automation makes it impossible to create a frictionless AP workflow.

Automating the AP workflow

Automating accounts payable processes – invoice data capture, 3-way matching, approvals – saves time and money. Operations are centralized and everyone has ongoing access to documents. Benefits include…

  • Reduced processing time and error rates
  • Strengthened vendor relationships
  • Heightened fraud management
  • Integration with other business systems such as CRM and ERP
  • Automatic notifications for discrepancies and payments due
  • Automated reports and analytics to help with strategical decision making, audits, and taxation
Example of the accounts payable process if automated.

Example of accounting automation.

Why you should automate your workflows

While mapping your workflows comprehensively can be a painful process, in the long run, it’ll save you time, money, and stress.

To start, focus on the processes in your business that have proven to have issues. Bottlenecks or evidence of inefficiency. 

Decide which processes to map, and the appropriate method of mapping. Post-it notes on the wall is a perfectly acceptable way to start. Find areas that can be improved, change roles, etc. Are there bottlenecks caused by working with the wrong tool? Human bottlenecks? 

When processes are automated and operations standardized, your teams are freed from manual tasks. Giving teams more time to focus on strategic initiatives for competitive business growth.

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Digital process automation vs manual?

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Free eBook: Cost of doing nothing | Zero in on accounting automation

If you’re still in two minds as to whether automation is the way to go, take a look at our free eBook – Cost of doing nothing | Zero in on accounting automation.

While it concentrates on automating accounts payable processes, it’s relevant across industries. It takes a deep dive into the true cost of doing nothing. Of persevering with manual document processing. Highlighting the benefits of automation, questions to ask an IDP vendor in your RFP, and the impact of doing nothing.

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The AP process is time-consuming, labor-intensive, repetitive, and… critical. Which begs the question, why isn’t it automated as standard?