top of page

Picture This: To Be Process Mapping

You need to have the big picture before you can work on the little picture. And a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. If you are working on improving a process, a process map is the visualization tool you need to provide you with a holistic visual view of an entire process. The level of detail can range from a broad overview to a specific focus on one aspect or part.

Process maps are simple to understand and logically oriented, making them an effective tool for communicating complex concepts. And they are also very simple to create. You can visualize "as-is" or you can visualize "to-be". This article will first explore some reasons why you should be using process mapping for visualization and then go over the six steps for creating one.

A business team brainstorms ideas on sticky notes


A process is a set of activities and tasks that transforms inputs into products and services. Processes involve continuous iterations that create the product or service repeatedly.

Process analysis is a means to assess a process for its effectiveness and efficiency, as well as to identify opportunities for change. Process maps are the ideal visualization tool for this type of data. A process map is a graphical display to show how work is carried out.

Process maps are a foundation for process analysis. And process analysis is fundamental to process improvement.


Process mapping is a versatile form of process modelling. The Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK), process modelling can be used to define the current state. The current state is referred to as is process mapping. Mapping the potential future state is known as to be process mapping. (BABOK 10.35)

Process maps are also great for visualizing processes at their highest level and then drilling down. They provide a way to view processes from different levels of detail, or granularity. For example, a hospital examining their arriving process for visitors could use a process map to view all the roles and departments that come into contact with visitor from the time they arrive to when they are receiving care.

The ability to be able to both zoom in and zoom out on a process or a portion of a process makes process maps ideal for identifying challenges and opportunities for improvement.

An example of a process map illustrating a onboarding process

If you are trying to identify a bottleneck, it can help with root cause analysis. For example, if you are exploring the time between application and orientation for a volunteer, a process map can reveal bottlenecks that need to be addressed.


  • To document a process

  • To perform process analysis

  • To perform root cause analysis

  • To maintain consistency in procedures of a process

  • To maintain regulatory standards

  • To engage stakeholders

  • To inform decision making

  • To clearly identify roles and responsibilities

  • To identify business questions

  • To describe the context of the current state

  • To describe what actually happens

  • To provide an understandable description of sequence of activities

  • To visually accompany a text description

So now you see how valuable a process map visualization can be for so many different applications. I'm a huge fan of the process map. I became a Certified Process Mapping Specialist because I want to share this great tool with others. I have successfully used them to communicate and clarify expectations. This is particularly useful for training and performance consistency.

For example, I recently worked with a museum to develop training materials for their new volunteer program. Classroom field trips to the museum follow a set process. Process maps were created to enhance understanding and allow for quick reference.

Compare the list of steps on the left with the process map on the right. Both contain the same information but the process map shows the flow where the list can only describe it.

comparison of written directions with a process map of the same information


The more involved and complex your process map becomes, the more symbols and swim lanes you will have to add to denote all the activities, decisions, and roles involved. There are only a handful of symbols in total, but it is best to get started with a simple process map.

Process maps contain symbols that represent the key elements of a process. These elements are found in many process maps, simple or complex:



Directional flow

Decision point



The most simplest of process maps may not need to include all these elements. For example, the element of "role" may not be necessary if the process never spans other work functions.

No matter how simple or complex, follow these six steps for creating your process map.

A smiling business woman with two people writing on flipchart

#1 | Define Objectives

As is the rule with all effective visualizations, you must know your purpose in creating it to begin with. What do you hope to learn or do as a result of your process mapping? Defining the objective will help define the level of granularity.

#2 | Scope Definition

Defining the beginning and end points of your process is critical. Establishing boundaries that define which activities are included in the process will help you avoid scope-creep. For example, does your visitor arrival process start with valet when they get to the hospital, or is it after they have entered and are engaging with Guest Services team members, or maybe it is a day prior when they got a reminder call from the unit. The right answer will depend on the business question.

#3 |Brainstorm with Stakeholders

Once you have a good idea of the end points of the process and your objectives in mapping it, you need to get the feedback of other stakeholders. Assemble a team to review the process with you. This is absolutely necessary for complex map with multiple swim lanes.

With the team assembled, identify and list all the steps to the process and the people involved. There are several different types of brainstorming methods to use. Encourage participation from everyone who is a part of the process that is being mapped.

#4 |Determine and Sequence the Key Steps

Once you have worked with others to capture all the parts of the process, you can begin to identify the key steps. It is a good suggestion to start at the highest level and then to break down processes into more detail as needed.

#5 |Map the Process

Start with the beginning and end points. Add the flow of the key steps identified from step 5. Map the process as it actually occurs not as you think it happens. Use basic process mapping symbols.

#6 |Validate the Map

Process maps, like all visualizations, require an iterative process. You need the feedback of the end-user, subject matter expert, etc., to ensure that process has been mapped accurately.


So, to review, there are some things to definitely do when creating a process map. And conversely, some things to avoid.

Do this:

  • Do map the process as it actually happens

  • Do think about the process across the entire organization

  • Do talk to other people who are involved in the process

  • Do define the beginning and end of the process before you start

  • Do the process map at the highest level first

Don't do that:

  • Don’t map the process as you think it happens

  • Don’t restrict your process map to the activities in your department

  • Don’t work in a vacuum

  • Don’t attempt to process map before you identify a beginning and an end

  • Don’t get bogged down with too

Using process mapping for visualization is a great tool to have in your data visualization toolbox. It helps to communicate complex concepts, identify bottlenecks and challenges, and improve processes for better outcomes. Six steps for creating a simple process map were shared. A picture is worth a thousand words. By applying simple process mapping elements, you can create a visualization that is effective, informative, and easy to understand.

Profile picture of blog author

Roseanna Galindo, ECBA, CAVS

Roseanna Galindo is Principal at Periscope Business Process Analysis and a champion for data literacy, the human experience in healthcare, and volunteer leaders everywhere. Learn more about Roseanna and her blog, The Periscope Insighter, by reading the opening post, Venn The Time Is Right.



bottom of page