Process Improvement

by Rus Slater

From start to finish

Whether you are using software or paper, it pays to put some thought into how you use the symbols and to follow some basic guidelines.

Starting out

It is critical to formally agree, and document, the point at which the mapped process starts. For example, in the scenario of making a cup of tea; is it at the point when the kettle boils or when the decision to have a cup of tea is made?

Why is this important? Well, for instance, whose role is it to ensure that we have all the ingredients? You might be mapping part of a larger process in which you only have access to the bit which is done in your department, in which case you need to make it clear that you haven’t gone into detail on the bits before and after your process.


A road map of Hampshire also shows small and undetailed parts of Berkshire, Sussex and Surrey. Having this data tells you where on the map of Hampshire you start and finish. Apply this idea to your process map also. Be aware of the bit upstream from the perceived area of interest and the bit downstream beyond your area of interest.

For example, if you are concerned with the bank’s internal process for a loan application, you might start with the customer filling in the application and finish with the customer’s bank cashing the cheque.


An activity is any step in the process where something happens or is done which furthers the process.

A macro-level process map may have activities grouped together under one heading - for example, ‘produce documents’.

A micro-level process map will list the specific activities required to produce each of these documents in detail.

A situation where there are several sub-processes happening at the same time is referred to as a concurrency.

Where the process passes from department-to-department, or person-to-person, the activities may be colour coded or grouped to show departmental, team or individual responsibility.

If you are doing a company-wide review, the overall sponsor may need a macro-level map, the department heads may need maps at a medium level, while individual teams may be producing micro-level maps showing individual 20-minute tasks.


Every decision inserted into a process map must be set as a closed question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

If the answer is ‘yes’, the process moves on to the next stage; if ‘no’, the map must show what the next stage should be in that case.


Don’t miss out the decisions when mapping...

Inserting decisions into a process map often highlights problem areas or improvement opportunities. An example would be if the activity itself is relatively quick, but the output then waits for a supervisor or manager to make a decision about whether the output is ready to go on to the next stage. This can be the hold up. Listing decisions on the process map also encourages people to recognise the effects of different decisions.


‘Activities’ and ‘decisions’ (and sometimes movement) are often referred to generically as ‘events’ within the process.


The arrows show the onward movement of the ‘product’ through the string of events that make up the whole process.

Normally, we map from left to right because that is the way we read and write in English. However, for ease of mapping on PCs, many organisations map from top to bottom, as this allows a reader to scroll down the process on screen rather than having arrows going back from the right of the page to the left.

The end point

The end point, like the start point, needs to be formally agreed. For example, does the end of the tea scenario come at the point when the tea is poured, or when it has been drunk, or when the cup has been returned to the kitchen?