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A Complete Guide to Six Sigma Process Map

12th Sep, 2023
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    A Complete Guide to Six Sigma Process Map

    Six Sigma is a methodology that helps to improve business process capabilities (with 3.4 defects per million opportunities) by implementing some tools called Six Sigma process mapping tools and principles. Six Sigma methodology begins with a process map. It can be used in varying degrees by small businesses or large industries based on the needs and objectives of a business or a project. These tools can be used almost anywhere, from creating statistical charts, illustrative diagrams (process maps), data collection methods, project management, and process analysis. These tools may or may not be exclusive to Six Sigma alone, but they can be applied in specific ways to the areas that need process improvement. Process mapping is a tool with different variations used by Six Sigma professionals at white, yellow, green or black belt levels. Anyone can learn in detail by attending some top Six Sigma Certifications courses.  

     The present article will explore the process mapping tool used in general and at Six Sigma and Lean levels. Beginners interested in learning process map analysis in Six Sigma or how to create an appropriate process map suitable for a project can learn it from the Six Sigma Green Belt online course. 

    What Is a Process Map

    We know each task needs to follow certain steps from the start to reach its end. These steps are called processes. From domestic to the business world, it could be anything, for example, cooking, reaching offices, industries producing goods, banks or hospitals providing services- the list goes on.   

    process Map is essentially a graphical illustration of a process. It captures details on how the process operates and the steps that add value to it and those that do not. It is a simple yet powerful tool, adding great value to documenting everything happening during a manufacturing or service process.  

     A process map typically captures the following:  

    • Key requirements of the process output or deliveries (Ys)Main input parameters (Xs)  
    • The main outputs of each step  
    • Steps that add value to the process  
    • Steps that do not add value to the process  

    There are various types of process maps depending on their uses. For example, high-level (called Level-1) process maps are used in industries to capture data like who the suppliers are, the inputs, the process steps, the outputs and the end customers. Expressed differently, it shows “What is happening”.   

    Level-2 process map likewise captures data that shows “What and Who is responsible”.   

    Level-3 process map gives the answers to the questions like “What, How and How”. 

    Why Do You Need a Process Map?

    A project team of twelve people might have twelve different views of how the process should work and, in all probability, as many ideas of what will improve the process and what the improved process should look like. Without standardization, no project will see its successful completion on time. Hence, a process map is of utmost necessity to standardize and give a common reference point to a team on how the process functions and how it can be improved.  

    • Additionally, a comprehensive process map helps the team with the following understanding:  
    • It gives a visual understanding to anyone of how a process works.  
    • Identifies the problem and makes it visible by putting it on the page (the first step to solving a problem).  
    • It enables the team members to see the steps that do not add value to the process and eliminate them right at the beginning.  
    • Highlights the steps that need improvement.  
    • It makes comparison easy. Placing it side by side with a new process map helps to understand the process steps, improve areas, and discover new ones. 

    What Is a Six Sigma Process Map? 

    Six Sigma, or Lean, cannot function without a process map. Because any process may produce tangible results, but if the process remains obscure to human senses, quality improvement and reducing waste will never remain unattainable. Hence Six Sigma needs a tool to give a concrete shape to a concept so that it becomes real and attainable. Over and above, it will help to understand the non-value additive steps at the onset and implement the ones that do by allowing everyone to stay focused.  

    However, several process flow diagrams Six Sigma are available, and one needs to choose the right one suiting a project. 

    Different Types of Process Maps in Six Sigma 

    1. SIPOC (and SIPOC-R) 
    2. High-Level Map 
    3. Detailed Map 
    4. Swimlane Map 
    5. Relationship Map 
    6. Value Stream Map 

    1. SIPOC (and SIPOC-R) 

    The full form of SIPOC is supplier – Inputs – Process – Outputs – Customer. Though some process map specialists may have different opinions on whether it could be treated as a real process map, the fact remains that it establishes the foundation for subsequent processing mapping and cannot be avoided. SIPOC essentially identifies the key players focusing on the discussion of what the process is all about. 

    SIPOC-R is a variation of SIPOC where the specification (or requirements) for inputs and outputs are mentioned. Such additional details might help in providing clues to the problems we may wish to solve at the outset. 

    2. High Level Map

    This type of process map provides quick and easy insights into what the process does in a few steps. It does not detail how it is done. Such maps are useful when communicating to leadership or others who do not need to go into the minute details. Creating such maps does not require even deep knowledge of the process, and anyone can construct them with the help of a manager. 

    3. Detailed Map

    There could be some parts of a process that we need to see, especially those who are executing the process at the ground level. In such cases, a detailed process map will be needed.  

    Also, if there are a number of problems that happen to arise with any of the process steps those can be figured out. For example in a purchase process “get three quotes” might need to be explored in more detail.  

    Creating a detailed map needs a lot of work, involvement of people and is time consuming. Hence often this type of mapping is used selectively depending on the need and the situation. 

    4. Swimlane Map

    This process map is highly valued, especially by managers because it clearly captures who does what. 

    A swimlane map segregates steps into different lanes(channels) according to who does the particular activity. This can be compared to a swimming pool separated by individual lanes. A swimlane map splits up a large project into lanes handling different responsibilities. They could be used to delegate the responsibilities of a specific set of tasks to departments like marketing, customer service, sales and the like. 

    5Relationship Map

    Though not widely used, this map is useful while exploring a process initially especially at a high level to understand the identity of participants. 

    6. Value Stream Map

    Typically used when planning a Lean implementation to show the ongoing state of a process which may also include material flow, information flow or other important information that is needed for implementing Lean. Though it requires more skill to create a value stream map, nevertheless it is of great help in the long run.KnowledgeHut top Six Sigma certifications could be a good option to learn it from. 

    Difference Between Any Process Map and a Six Sigma Process Map: (When To Choose What)

    Now that we have understood what a process map is, its importance and also different types of Six Sigmahigh level process maps, it is time to understand the difference between any process map and a Six Sigma process map and when to use one. 

    The focus of the Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma process mapping remains on bringing improvement and efficiency in the process, addressing the waste between and within the processes. While a process map focuses on making current processes more efficient.  

    Six Sigma process maps could be used for a process overhaul, whereas a process map could be used to see if a certain adjustment could make the process efficient if need be; instead of completely uprooting the existing process. A Six Sigma mapping process primarily looks out for activities that do not add value and is most useful in finding such wastes in a process and eliminating them. 

    When to use what will depend on the situation. Let us consider a six sigma process map example for better understanding of the concept.  

    A team manager sees that the team is having difficulty in meeting quota and would like to have a bird's eye view of all the activities involved. Here process mapping could be useful. Once the manager observes some unwanted or questionable aspects in the process.In order to nail down such activities, the team can implement a value stream map that would identify the wastes in the process that could be eliminated or minimized in order to reach the desired result, that is, meeting the quota in this case. 

    How To Create a Process Map Using Different Templates

    Each step of a process is represented by a shape in a process map, also known as flowchart shapes or Six Sigma Process map symbolsor Six Sigma flowchart symbols (when they are used for making Six Sigma flowchart) . There are around 30 standard shapes that are used in process mapping methods in Six Sigma. 

    For creating different process maps, different methods are used, though the ground rules and the six sigma flowchart shapes and symbols remain the same for all types of process maps. For example, the arrow used in a process map or any Six Sigma process charshould be in one direction and should not be in a zig-zag fashion. Similarly, YES and NO should always have the same direction in the process map. If YES is pointed in the right direction and NO in the left direction, then the same pattern should be used throughout the map without any alteration. 

    The boxes used in the map should always be of the same size and give the entire detail of each and every step of the process. For example, if a ‘double click’ is required to open an app, it should be mentioned clearly. 

    A couple of Six Sigma or Lean Six Sigma process flow diagram template examples are given below:  

    Steps To Follow in Creating Six  Sigma High Level Process Maps (SOP and Actual) 

    Step-1 : Identification

    Here the managers need to identify the real reason behind creating the process map. Finding the answers to these questions will help in the process: 

    1. Is it because the process is not performing as desired? 
    2. The company wants to launch a new product or service? 
    3. Does the business want to increase the value derived from the existing processes? 

    Next, the events that created the demand for a process map and the triggers behind the process should be identified. 

    Third, the parameters (or conditions) that will finally satisfy the demand need to be clearly defined. 

    Fourth, proper documentation containing all the details of the specific project must be made. It should contain specific details of the project, business problem, shareholders’ expectations, business objectives and also the scope of the process. 

    Step-2 : Data Gathering

    The manager needs to observe the existing process in its entirety to gather all data and information which then will have to be documented. Various parameters that are involved in the process like machinery, suppliers, inputs involved and outputs- everything should be captured. Effective brainstorming, work instructions, experience of the operators and supervisors would help in such data collection. 

    Step-3 : Planning and Scheduling

    Before designing the process map focus should be given to the roles of the members involved and not on the jobs. Based on the roles and systems, proper allocation of people involved, the tasks involved and estimated time can be understood. 

    Step-4 : Selection of the Proper Map

    This is the time to select the appropriate mapping technique. If any previous process maps were made in the past, it should be reviewed as well at this stage. 

    Step-5 : Involve People

    Planning and conducting interviews and informing all the related stakeholders of the purpose, objective and scope of the interview and the process map itself so that everyone understands the intention behind it and is able to contribute accordingly. 

    Step-6 : ‘Should Be’ vs ‘Actual’

    This is the stage to ‘map the actual process’ without considering the ‘should be processed’ or the ‘standard operating procedures’ or SOP. Some factors that could be considered are the major activities of the process, source of approval, causes of bottlenecks, extra work hours, wastes and factors that prevent the members from working efficiently. 

     All the steps of the process and the respective roles of the members must be carefully listed and matched. Correct flowchart symbols must be used. 

    Step-7 : Revision

    The process map needs to be reviewed thoroughly and revised wherever required to avoid any redundancies, delays, unnecessary steps and more. 

    Mistakes To Avoid in Process Mapping

    No doubt process mapping is a highly efficient and useful tool to facilitate improvement in a process but great care should be taken in creating them. Cases are not uncommon where process maps go wrong and generally these are due to a)the incorrect use of the process maps b)planning and execution of process mapping. 

    Some of the common mistakes to avoid are: 

    1. Blind Use of Process Maps in Business Processes (Even When They Cannot Be Used) 

    Business processes, in general, are of three types- a)transactional (where a number of inputs interact to bring the specific outputs, for example, sales, call center), b)transformational (where the inputs whether in physical or virtual form, change totally to give the output. Manufacturing process or system development process are the typical examples) and c)decision making (where different input parties interact to arrive at any decision, for example, pricing decision). 

    Often managers do not differentiate among these business processes before creating the process mapping. Process mapping is most successful in transactional and transformational business processes and not in decision-making processes. 

     2. Lack of Clarity 

    A mistake in identifying the causes of a problem is another mistake often made. A possibility could be there that the real cause of a problem lies outside the scope of a process. In that case, obviously, process mapping will not bring the desired result. To give an example, a hotel might be struggling with the issue of delayed room service. After mapping the room service process, no problem was detected. Later it was found that the engagement of the lifts in transporting laundry and other goods caused the delay in room service. 

    Therefore, a correct focus on the problem along with the possible causes will be required. Depending on process mapping alone will not be helpful. 

    3. Obsession With the Perfect Process Map 

    Oftentimes managers get obsessed with designing a perfect process map and lose the focus and the goal of developing the process map. 

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    Towards Better Process Mapping : Things To Remember

    By avoiding the mistakes discussed above and following some guidelines, practitioners and business managers can successfully develop effective process maps. These are:  

    1. Improvement objectives need to be clear and continuous  

    2. Use process mapping in appropriate situations  

    3. Deploy experienced professionals to develop process maps  

    4. Understand the impact of organizational structures  

    5. Identify and consider multiple responsibilities and tasks  

    Free Process Mapping Tools Popular With Leaders

    Process mapping experts often take the help of online process mapping to improve the productivity of their firms and increase revenue. Some of the free and popular ones are:  

    • GitMind- Can be used by anyone. A user can export the project in a wide range of formats and can even do the basic edits over the phone app. Various templates and process maps are available and can be customized as well, with the facility of sharing the link with others to see and contribute if necessary.  
    • Creately- Compatible with any device, it allows users up to five public diagrams and templates that can be used by various industries and can be used by many people simultaneously.  
    • LucidChart is an advanced process mapping tool that allows collaboration and chats in real-time for better coordination and collaboration and can be used with productivity tools G Suite or Microsoft Office. 

    Six Sigma Process Mapping Template (How To Create One or Download It for Free) 

    A simple to understand and modify Six Sigma process map template Excel can be created using Microsoft Excel or Google Sheet by using the symbols. For example: 

    The same can be downloaded free from:https://www.smartsheet.com/free-lean-six-sigma-templates. However, this will come with a watermark of the provider which may not be convenient to use. 


    Using a project map or its type entirely depends on a project and its objective. Many projects use several project maps, starting with SIPOC and then a High-Level Map. Then after a while, a more detailed map could be needed to locate the problem areas and their causes.   

    The main purpose of a process map is to make reality visible at a glance. The project needs the right guide to show which map to use and when. A reality process walk is always advisable to learn about the process and confirm that the process map made is real and not a good story.   

    Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

    1Are there any six sigma process mapping tools available online that one can use?

    Of course, some six sigma process mapping tools are available for free that many experts use like GitMind, Creately, Edraw, Visual Paradigm, LucidChart. 

    2Is value stream mapping a Six Sigma tool?

    Yes, it is a lean six sigma tool. Lean six sigma value stream mapping is used by lean practitioners. 

    3What are basic six sigma process map symbols called?

    The oval, rectangle, diamond, parallelogram and arrow are the basics. The oval marks the start/end. The rectangle represents any step in the process, like tasks or actions. 


    Shivender Sharma

    Blog Author

    Shivendra Sharma, an accomplished author of the international bestseller 'Being Yogi,' is a multifaceted professional. With an MBA in HR and a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, he boasts 15 years of experience in business and digital transformation, strategy consulting, and process improvement. As a member of the Technical Committee of the International Association of Six Sigma Certification (IASSC), he has led multi-million dollar savings through organization-wide transformation projects. Shivendra's expertise lies in deploying Lean and Six Sigma tools across global stakeholders in EMEA, North America, and APAC, achieving remarkable business results. 

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