Process Mapping is one of the quickest and most intuitive ways to document all sorts of different activities that go on inside your business every day. For initiatives like regulatory compliance to process improvement to education and training, you may find that Process Maps are the quickest and most effective way to document and communicate how your business works. With just a few clicks of the mouse, you can illustrate what otherwise would be complicated to write as well as tedious and time consuming to read in narrative form.
Before getting started, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the Process Modeler Environment and check out the Process Modeler Quick Start. These two articles will give you a basic understanding of what the Process Modeler can do. The following articles in Process Mapping 101 will teach you the fundamentals of process mapping and how to use the Process Modeler to create highly effective maps quickly and easily.
When reading through these lessons remember that above all else, consistency is the key to a successful initiative. Why? Because when you are consistent you don’t have to do everything else “exactly right.” When you are consistent in the way you document your processes, your process maps don’t have to be works of art; you don’t have to use the perfect diagramming shape each time; and you even can get away with doing things that some people might consider “incorrect”. The reason for this is that with consistency, your audience will have an easier time following and understanding your work. Remember, with consistency your audience can understand your work, and if they can understand it, you have done a good job!
This tutorial is compilation of articles or “lessons” broken down into the following sections:
- Lessons 1-3: Getting Started With Your First Maps
- Lessons 4-9: Making Great Looking Process Maps
- Examples: Learning from a Bad Example
After you master these concepts, Process Mapping 102 (Coming soon) teaches you how to break down large processes, work with different shapes, and layer additional information onto your map.
Lessons 1-3: Getting Started With Your First Maps
- Start Your Map Using Basic Shapes – The Synthis Process Modeler contains hundreds of “shapes” that you can place onto diagrams. This article shows you how quickly and simply to start using the six basic shapes that you will use more than 90% of the time. Read Article »
- Simple Element Naming Conventions – Following a few simple conventions that will help you improve the readability of your Process Maps. Read Article »
- “Show it” on Process Map and “Say it” in the Comments – Avoid cluttering your diagrams with “too many words”. Instead use Element forms to capture rich process detail. Read Article »
Lessons 4-8 Making Great Looking Process Maps
- How to Use the Grid – Consistent Element spacing is one of the simplest ways to improve the visual appeal of your Process Map. Read Article »
- Right Angles Look Better than Diagonal Lines – Using right angles instead of diagonal lines to connect Elements instead will make your map look more organized and help your reader follow the flow. Read Article »
- Design Your Process Map from Left to Right. Unless you live in a right to left culture, you should try to start your process on the top left with sequential steps following to the right. Choosing to work top down is not a bad option either but be consistent with the direction you choose. Changing directions arbitrarily on your map will confuse your reader. (Coming soon.)
- How to Make a U-Turn to Avoid a Run-on Process Map – An exception to the working left to right guideline pops up when you have a diagram that seems to run on forever. Without wrapping your diagram somehow, you can end up with a diagram that is very wide and not very tall. (Coming soon.)
- Avoid Excessive Decoration on Your Process Maps (Coming soon.)
Learning from a Bad Example
So far, Process Mapping 101 has given you a bunch of tips that cover many different topics. We are going to “put it all together” by starting with an example that really can use some improvement! Simply applying the lessons of Process Mapping 101 above will result in a much more consistent, visually appealing, and understandable Process Map.
Figure 1 shows our fictitious example depicting how a company responds to customer or prospect inquiry. When you don’t start out with the Process Mapping 101 tips in mind, it is easy to end up with Process Maps that look just like this. There are certainly many things that can be improved about this example, but for starters we are going to tackle using the gird and right angles as well as working from left to right.
- Use the grid for deliberate spacing. When you don’t start with a grid spacing in mind it is easy to “grow” a sloppy diagram. Here Elements appear at different horizontal and vertical spacings. Compounding the confusing effect, Elements are not in aligned rows or columns meaning that Edges are not automatically aligned.
- Right Angles Look Better than Diagonal Lines. No big secret here. The diagonal lines look unfinished and interrupt the left-to-right flow.
- Work left to right. In this example the user starts the process off going left AND right out of the Decision Element. Kind of visually confusing isn’t it? We will talk more about Decisions in a minute but clearly this violates the left-to-right principle. When you put your Start Point in the upper left corner, working the flow left to right is natural and easy. If your start turns out not to be the actual start and you need to add new preceding steps to an existing flow, don’t just squeeze them in anywhere you can find room on the canvas. It is incredibly easy to move everything to the left and/or down. Use the Select All toolbar button or the “Ctrl-A” shortcut, then drag all the shapes into a neat group. Make sure to drop them on an even grid spacing!
After applying these first three tips you can see a dramatic improvement! The Process Map is much more readable after just a few minutes of work. It still looks a little cluttered though. One thing you might notice is that many of the Element names are not following the naming conventions discussed above, and the map has a good bit of extra decoration. For instance, why is the “Sales Related Inquiry?” decision colored green? Is it because the author of this Process Map was thinking “sales equals money and money is green?” That is the problem with many of the “decorations” you put onto a map. More often than not, the reader will not appreciate your reasons for the bold/color/dashes/etc. Let’s fix the Element names, remove extra decorations, and move any other extra information off of the map and into the appropriate Element’s comment area.
Getting better! Let’s take a look at a few of the fixes. First of all, you might have noticed that the large yellow comment in the lower right is gone. The comment in that box really applied to the decision “Customer on version 1.2 of XYZ product?”, which we renamed to “Customer on Latest Version?”. The yellow highlight was drawing too much attention away from the rest of the process. Worse than that, since the text only appeared on the diagram and was not associated with the Decision Element, the information could not be generated into any of the documents that the Process Modeler produces. To fix it, simply move the text to the Decision’s comment area.
The last area that could use some improvement on the Process Map is the use of Decisions. In the example above: 1. the Decisions don’t have all of their exit arrows labeled 2. the Decisions use different directions for Yes/No 3. “Sales Related Inquiry?” has three exits.
There, all done! All of the Edges are labeled, the Yes Edges go to the right, and all the No arrows go down. Sometimes you cannot help but break this convention; still, overall the convention creates a nice flow. Also, the “Sales Related Inquiry?” decision was broken down into two Decisions, as it should have been all along.
I hope you will agree that the tips presented in Process Mapping 101 resulted in a Process Map that is clear and easy to understand. Remember, while we did take a good bit of the information off of the map, we put that information back into the various Elements’ comment areas. Now when users browse the Synthis Process Maps they are presented with a picture that is easy to follow, and at any point they can drill down on individual Elements for more information.