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Common process mapping examples and how process mining brings them into the modern world

Our everyday lives are full of multi-step processes. Whether we’re booking a vacation, renewing our home insurance, or simply getting dinner on the table, we’re following processes – step by step – to get the job done. There’s usually no need to write these processes down as they’re either relatively straightforward, or have become routine habits.

Businesses also run on multi-step processes, from managing orders and maintaining stock levels to paying invoices and onboarding employees. In these instances it’s important to document each workflow so employees can be trained, consistency can be maintained, compliance can be confirmed, and improvements can be made.

Business process mapping is the traditional way to document these multi-step processes. In this article we’ll take a look at what process mapping is, with some process mapping examples, and then explore how it’s being modernized through developments in process mining and process intelligence.

What is process mapping?

Process mapping is a visual representation of how core functions within a business operate. Or – to be more accurate – it’s a representation of how they’re supposed to operate, or how people think they operate. We’ll come back to that a little later.

Business process mapping is a form of process discovery, which is the act of creating a model that can be used to analyze and optimize a process. It’s a helpful first step for bringing visibility to existing workflows, and process mapping software can help guide basic decision making for core processes. Process maps can take a wide variety of forms, and usually incorporate process mapping symbols that everyone in the organization can understand.

Common process mapping examples include:

  • Flowcharts: A basic flowchart is the simplest example of a process map. It uses well-known shapes and symbols, such as a rectangle for a task or action, and a diamond for a decision point, all connected with process flow arrows.

  • Swimlane diagrams: Also known as cross-functional diagrams, a swimlane diagram is a type of process flowchart that provides clarity and accountability by showing which team or function is responsible for each process step. Lanes on this type of process map can be horizontal or vertical, and the diagram shows connections and handoffs between the lanes.

  • Data flow diagrams: A data flow diagram is a visual representation of how data flows through an entire process or system, including inputs and outputs. There are no decisions or loops in data flow diagrams, and the four key elements are external entities, processes, data stores and data flows.

  • Value stream mapping: Most commonly used in lean manufacturing, a value stream map details the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order to delivery. Items are mapped as adding value or not adding value from the customer’s point of view, which can help to eliminate waste and drive process improvement.

  • BPMN maps: Used for business process modeling, Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) is a process flowchart that details the sequence of activities required to complete a business process. It has a wider range of process map symbols and elements than a standard flowchart, including events that trigger a process, gateways that denote decision points, and artifacts for additional relevant information.

  • SIPOC diagrams: SIPOC is an acronym that stands for suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers. When used as a business process map, a SIPOC diagram gives a high-level view of a process and how it combines these five components. It is most commonly used with processes associated with customer experience to help stakeholders make more informed decisions.

Three benefits of process mapping

Documenting business processes using one of the methods outlined above, and a process mapping tool, can bring a number of business benefits:

1. Increasing process understanding

Mapping a current process out as a diagram or process flowchart can make it much easier to understand than narrative text. Laying the different steps of a process out visually can make it simpler to follow and ensures everyone understands the goals they’re working towards as well as how to achieve them.

2. Improving communication

Business process mapping can improve communication around a business workflow, both within functions and with senior managers or stakeholders. Better communication results in better collaboration, which helps teams complete tasks more quickly and accurately.

3. Identifying areas for improvement

Being able to see a process as a map or diagram, and to understand how each individual step contributes to the process as a whole, makes it easier to identify potential issues and areas that can be improved. Identifying missing or redundant steps, for example, can help with process improvement, increasing efficiency and boosting productivity within the team.

The limitations of business process mapping

While process mapping is a useful tool for gaining a basic overview of business processes, it isn’t really suited to effective process management. Business process mapping is:

  • Time-consuming: Process mapping tends to be a slow, labor intensive process that relies on interviews with process owners, managers and other stakeholders. The outputs of these interviews are translated into process maps which may well be outdated by the time they’re complete.

  • Inherently biased: Because process mapping is based on opinions gathered at the interview stage, it is highly likely to be biased, as well as potentially incomplete. Process mapping will never give an objective view of what’s really happening on the ground.

  • Largely inaccurate: With process mapping based on people’s perception of how a process is running, rather than on reliable data, it’s unlikely to be an accurate representation of how work is actually happening. Business processes inevitably have numerous workflow variants or deviations that are virtually impossible to capture with business process mapping, making pain points difficult to identify.

Find out how Conrad Electronics – which sells nine million products from over 6,000 brands to 21 million customers each year – realized analyzing its process landscape with traditional process mapping methods was simply impossible.

Process mining vs process mapping

Process mining is a technology that addresses the core limitations of process mapping. Rather than using people’s opinions, process mining extracts reliable event data from business systems to deliver a complete and objective view of how processes actually run and intersect, end-to-end, in real-time, and in all their variations, across entire organizations.

To begin to understand the difference between process mapping and process mining, we can return to the personal processes discussed earlier and think about the process of cooking a meal.

  • With process mapping you would get the recipe you’re using to prepare the dish: a step by step process map of how the meal should be cooked.

  • With process mining you would see how the meal is actually being prepared. It would reveal the ingredients you substituted because you forgot to add them to the grocery list, the extra time the dish spent in the oven because you had to take a work call, and the multiple variations you created because one child doesn’t like spicy food and one doesn’t eat dairy. Process mining would also reveal how the cooking process intersected with setting the table, stacking the dishwasher, and cajoling your family into the dining room.

This lighthearted example illustrates that while process mapping outlines what is supposed to happen, process mining reveals what’s actually happening, in real time, and in every variation. Read our blog post to find out more about the differences between process mining and process mapping.

How process mining modernizes process mapping

Process mining and process mapping are easily confused because one of the outputs of process mining is a series of process maps. But these maps are far more detailed, realistic, and interactive than anything that can be achieved through traditional business process mapping.

For instance, the Celonis Process Adherence Manager creates subway maps that allow businesses to see whether their processes run differently in reality to how they are ideally supposed to run. It integrates process mining, modeling, and conformance with real-world data to enable unique model-driven analysis. Businesses can use it to compare real process events with predefined process flows, determine how processes run differently than they should, evaluate each deviation’s impact on performance, and uncover the root causes of these deviations.

As Alex Andreyev, SVP Portfolio & Analytics Operations at Elsevier explains, “Celonis is a great way to uncover what is actually happening in reality with your systems rather than doing some assumptions or trying to map this using traditional approaches.”

The evolution of process mining

Process mining continues to evolve. Its latest iteration is object-centric process mining (OCPM) which delivers three-dimensional process models that better represent the reality of modern business operations and allow for greater business process insights. OCPM enables organizations to more effectively visualize and analyze the interconnectedness of complex process landscapes.

What’s more, the process data delivered by process mining is being enhanced with machine learning and deep process knowledge to create process intelligence. The Celonis Process Intelligence Graph is continually extended with process improvement knowledge from thousands of customer deployments in the Celonis ecosystem. This process intelligence powers process automation technologies and AI tools, enabling them to speak the language of the business and drive true value.

While process mapping can be a useful starting point for businesses looking to document their core processes, process mining and process intelligence provide far more effective ways to accurately understand what’s happening in a business and drive continuous improvement.

Find out how Celonis’ acquisition of Symbio, an innovative provider of AI-driven business process management software, is enabling an end-to-end experience for deploying process best practices aligned with real-time performance metrics and monitoring.

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Bill Detwiler
Senior Communications Strategist and Editor Celonis Blog

Bill Detwiler is Senior Communications Strategist and Editor of the Celonis blog. He is the former Editor in Chief of TechRepublic, where he hosted the Dynamic Developer podcast and Cracking Open, CNET’s popular online show. Bill is an award-winning journalist, who’s covered the tech industry for more than two decades. Prior his career in the software industry and tech media, he was an IT professional in the social research and energy industries.

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