Process Mapping Your Way onto the Map: Diagramming Hacks for Small Businesses

BY IT GLUE | March 25, 2016

In this post our friends at Lucidchart take us through the ins and outs of process mapping for small businesses.

Process mapping might sound like something for a big corporation to worry about rather than a small business. However, as a rapidly growing startup ourselves, we’ve learned the importance of process mapping for small businesses firsthand and from the experiences of our users.

An example of this is MCF Tech, a company that develops tailored business process apps, told us that collaborative mapping helps them deliver the same value as competitors at just 10% of the cost. Users at Pearson, an educational publishing company, found that a few diagrams could go a long way in helping sales professionals remember the details of their training.

So are you ready to try your hand at a process map? Follow these tips to bypass the learning curve:

1. Select a viable process to analyze

Your process mapping mileage can vary widely depending on what kind of procedure you want to improve. Some high-level, decision-based, open-ended processes usually are not very good candidates for mapping, since they tend to be abstract.

Instead, map and analyze a process with clearly defined inputs and outputs. These include transactional processes, such as those governing a sales or support team, and technical processes involving the manufacturing or digital development of a particular output.

2. Decide what you want

Before you reach for your colored pencils or digital diagramming app, set a specific goal to guide your analysis. For instance, you might aim to increase a certain output by 50% each week, or you might plan to reduce the response time for a certain type of communication. Make sure the goal focuses on a particular aspect of your business rather than on the business as a whole.

3. Let things shape up naturally

To an extent, you can learn process diagramming as you do it. Start with a few simple flowchart shapes:

  • Mark the beginning or ending of a process with a round event symbol
  • Record an action or process with a rectangular activity symbol
  • Break down a decision with a diamond-shaped gateway symbol

Here’s a simple example of a payment process, built with Lucidchart:

To make sure you don’t overlook any steps, consider these questions:

  • What happens when the customer initiates this particular process?
  • How do the customer’s actions affect other parts of the organization, like the help desk or the sales department?
  • When do other factors and people enter the flow? Which options or new paths do they provide?

After you master the basics, you’ll want to include shapes specifically appropriate to your situation. The most common standard for business process mapping is Business Process Modeling and Notation 2.0 (refer to this BPMN shape guide for additional shapes).

4. Avoid death by detail

Be careful not to get bogged down by minutiae as you’re diagramming. Including too much information can over complicate things. Instead, start with a bird’s eye view of the process, looking for high-level improvements.

For instance, if you’re making pancakes, you might put “mix batter” as part of the map, but you wouldn’t need to list every single ingredient. Later, if you found that mixing the batter was a bottleneck, you could go into more detail.

5. You scratch my feedback, and I’ll scratch yours

You’ll get the most out of process mapping when you actually implement improvements based on the insights you gain.

People are more likely to commit to a process they’ve had a hand in designing. So make sure you share your work with your team early and often. Ideally, you’d all collaborate on a single central document in a cloud-based tool.

Once you have a picture of your current process, consider these questions as a group:

  • Where are the bottlenecks?
  • Are there any redundant portions?
  • Are any steps outdated or irrelevant?

Then plan changes based on your answers in a new copy of the process map (save the old version for reference). Finally, have everyone sign off on a completed version of the planned future or target version of the process.

By starting your next process map today, you’ll make your business more effective tomorrow.


Jabob Shumway is the Content Marketing Specialist for LucidChart. Jacob studied English at BYU. Prior to joining the Lucid team, he worked as a writing tutor.

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