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Process Mapping Part One SIPOC

Mapping and assessing process can be an extremely interesting and highly rewarding activity. If done the right way, it can shed light on inefficiencies, help create a shared understanding of requirements, and aid in the adoption of change. Over the next few posts, we’ll be looking at three process mapping tools, and how they can be used to improve your own approach when investigating an As-Is process.

The tools we’ll be looking at are:

  1. SIPOC Diagram
  2. Top-Down Activity Map
  3. Opportunity Flowchart

The use of the above tools are particularly beneficial, as not only do they help you to gather a good understanding of roles, project scope, documentation, and cultural factors, they also provide your stakeholders with an intro to some key terminology and concepts, allowing them to approach their own work from a new perspective. With that in mind, we will look at the benefits of each tool from a requirements gathering point of view, as well as how they can be used to educate your stakeholders.

In this post, we will look at SIPOC, an acronym that stands for Supplier, Input, Process, Output and Customer. Used at the define stage of Lean and Six Sigma projects to capture high-level As-Is process, identify process resources, and define the project scope.

In the video below, we can see a quick example of how you might fill in the SIPOC diagram.


The SIPOC workshop:

With a good idea of what area you’d like to improve upon, invite the most knowledgeable actors involved in that  activity to your SIPOC session. It is beneficial to allow the attendees time to gather their own notes as well as relevant documentation to aid in the discussion, so be sure to allow them enough time upfront to do so.

On the day; remind your attendees of the session goals, for example, ‘we are going to be taking a look at some of the key steps and resources involved in your goods-in-process.’. Write the five SIPOC headings along the top of your chosen surface and draw lines between the headings to create a table.

In the image below we see an example layout along with some types of information you may capture in your own investigation.

SIPOC Overview

Under the Process heading:

Gather the input from your attendees to list 5 to 7 steps that outline the key activities/milestones of the process. For now, much like building a story, you may find it beneficial to note down the start and end steps first, this will keep listed steps within the limit and ensure you capture only the key steps involved. You can take note of lower level steps if you like, but it’s best to omit these from the SIPOC, allowing it to provide a solid anchor for what you are trying to investigate.

Learning opportunity: High-level Process

The fundamental steps for completion of a task, these high-level steps encompass other lower level subprocesses.

Having your attendees understand what is meant by high-level process can remove a lot of the confusion around the process, for example, ‘well sometimes we do this, but we might do this if these criteria are present’ 

Under the Outputs heading:

Ask your attendees what outputs are generated from each of the high-level process steps. There may be multiple outputs for each, for example, the delivery of stock will output stock as well as a delivery note that will be needed to match against the purchase order.

Under the Customer heading:

Ask your attendees who would accept each of the outputs. It is important to list customers even if they may not be present on site to ensure you gather a full understanding of how these outputs meet the requirements of each of the customers, for example, an external customer may require an output within a specific time to continue providing their custom/services. Failing to take note of these may cause issues with the project if overlooked at this early stage. In the case of information such as payment where the same output/parts of information may be required by more than one customer, this may be a potential area for improvement in future, so is also of great importance to capture.

Learning Opportunity: Internal and External Customers

Providing value to external as well as internal customers may be a new concept for some of your attendees, giving a brief explanation of how to identify these will aid the investigation of output requirements.

External Customers: a person or organisation external to your company accepting an output of your process.

Internal customers: a colleague accepting an output of your process. These customers may not always be internal to the place of work, for example, customer services receiving a sales order from a sales representative. While the sales representative may not always be present on that site they provide and output to their colleague.

Under the Inputs heading: 

Ask your attendees what inputs are required for completion of each of the process steps, as with the Output column there may be multiple inputs at each step. 

Under the Supplier heading: 

Finally, ask your attendees who supplies each of the process inputs. These may be internal or external to the organisation. In some cases, they may also be an automated system, for example, a system that raises a purchase order once the stock reaches a certain level. These historical factors shouldn’t be overlooked as they may require you to involve other stakeholders in future, such as IT to gather a greater understanding of how the system was configured and why.

Tackling one column at a time will often raise important and overlooked factors, it’s your job as the facilitator to guide these additional requirements and revisit the correct columns as necessary.

The below image is an example of how the SIPOC diagram may look once filled in. While the below example is an imagined process we can see that the diagram provides you with a high-level process as well as some additional lines of investigation.


In the next post will look a little deeper into the lower level process steps using a Top-Down Activity Map and how to use this tool to look closer at lower level process steps.

Some additional notes:

To create the diagrams in this post I have been using the free google chrome add-on Gliffy. It has an easy drag and drop interface and comes packed with a good amount of process mapping artefacts/shapes. So if you would like something to start mapping your process I’d suggest giving Gliffy a try.

Building Quality Into Your Process

Give your staff the tools they need to become their own quality professional

Looking back at my time working within manufacturing a predominant recurring theme was the importance of the cost of quality throughout teams working on the various stages of construction. Sometimes seeming like a futile task, staff members would push blame onto the previous process, continuing to build upon the mistake and creating a poor overall outcome/quality of product.

The “Well would you buy it?” phrase recited by managers as the fundamental way of purveying the importance of quality to staff had poor adoption. Staff members carrying out the construction of a product had no real concept of the overall value of the product and the role they played in delivering value to both internal and external customers. While education and keeping staff members up-to-date on new products and their use is a great start to communicating the importance of their efforts. They still lacked a concrete standard of quality, meaning staff members were still unsure when it came to making a decision on the impact of the imperfection.

Quality standards often appeared as long specification type documents with pictures of various scuffs, scratches and chips. The literal explanation of the quality documents such as “…this scuff is unacceptable..” was only relevant to the mark depicted. While this may weed out the potential imperfections caused by mechanical processes such as something like dirt transferred from rollers, indents left from a clamping process, this left outlying issues yet to be documented. While these sorts of marks need to be captured and may be represented in your Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) they shouldn’t be around for long as they can be tackled with either amendments to the process/work instruction or a greater importance placed on the upkeep such as 5s checks.

Looking at the issues outlined above I have made an attempt to come up with an easily adaptable tool that after an initial training period can be applied at each of the various stages involved in the manufacturing process by all members of staff. While a meeting about what your own acceptance criteria is, e.g. an area of the product that is only visible during installation may have a less rigorous quality criteria. After the amendments have been made to the template the tool should give you the ability to quickly gather the metrics you need for a further root cause analysis of the most predominant issues.

The tool, ideally printed on clear acetate, is much more robust than paper documents even if they have been laminated. Clear acetate also allows the sizing guide along the right hand side of the chart to be placed directly over the imperfection. As well as allowing it to be easily wiped clean if it comes into contact with grease, oil, or other transferable dirt that may be present as a result of the manufacturing process.    

Quality tool Instruction

Use of the tool is easy

  1. Place sizing circles over largest recurrent imperfection.
  2. Move right along the chart to the quantity of imperfection present.
  3. Reference the number within the radial section of the chart on acceptability scale to gage the severity of the imperfections.

The configuration of the tool in the standard download available here uses a uniformed radial pattern. But can be amended over time taking advantage of valuable staff feedback to better reflect the imperfections discovered via day to day use.


The tool is available in an .SVG meaning the alterations can be made through the use of free vector graphics software (Inkscape) You can also download a .pdf document with a layer for training that can be turned off before printing if you would like to use the tool in its as is format.

In conclusion

Having all members of staff actively involved in the quality process allows quality control to become an integral part of the manufacturing process. Quickly capturing overlooked issues as well as ones that may arise in future makes staff at all levels see the value their work creates for the next actor in the chain of events, resulting in better adoption and a better outcome for the end users.  

UX for Lean Startups

Book by Laura Klein Review by James Jacques

If Laura Klein was employed by your organisation not only would you be validating the market place, gathering data and iterating like an army of OCD squirrels. You wouldn’t be short of funds either. Her passion for lean, agile, and UX consistently manifests itself throughout this book as “swears”. Despite her sometimes unsavoury expressions the book is very well written. Describing the value behind doing as little work as possible to achieve the real goal “invalidate early” before spending more time and money than your lean start up has.

Clearly very knowledgeable in her field she often makes reference to other design and analytical practices, pulling relevant information from each. Her “loosely related rants” strewn throughout the book highlight the potential down falls of, poor execution, planning, production and philosophy. With a vague fight club quote “you are not a unique snowflake” then goes on to describe how competitors products can be used to strengthen your own. Not by simply copying what worked but more importantly by not copying what didn’t.

If your unsure if this book is for you a quick look through the nine design “tools”, describing when you should be doing what you could be doing might help.

Tool’s listed are as follows

Tool 1: Truly understand the problems
Tool 2: Design the test first
Tool 3: Write some stories
Tool 4: talk about the possible solutions with the team
Tool 5: Make a decision
Tool 6: (In)Validate the approach
Tool 7: Sketch a few approaches
Tool 8: create interactive prototypes
Tool 9: Test and iterate

(page 98-117 UX for lean startups)

Clarification is achieved throughout the book in various ways, case studies, user stories and personal experiences. Working through the process of creating a product from verifying your market place to user feedback and the next iteration.

Verifying the market place: Simply put does your proposed product solve a large enough problem for your intended user group. Start small and specific, when she says specific she means it!

“There is a tendency among entrepreneurs to go for the broadest possible group of people who might be interested in purchasing a product. They will release a product aimed at “women” or “doctors” when what they should be doing is picking narrower markets like “urban moms who work full time outside the house and don’t have nannies” or “oncologists in large practices who don’t do their own billing.”…”

(page 33 UX for lean startups)

Targeting a specific user type at this level, narrows the volume of variable problems experienced, thereby allowing for a concise resolution with a small product. If you can’t find enough people to validate it as a viable market place, your either not trying hard enough or there simply aren’t enough to turn a profit (cue story about how Amazon only used to sell books).

If abbreviations are your thing don’t worry there’s something for you too.

CTA’s (calls to action), hoops you’d like your intended user (if any) to jump through. As an example buy button’s for a product that, in this case, doesn’t quite yet exist.

“Click here for your doggy spa weekend” *click* “I’m sorry our doggy spa weekend isn’t quite ready yet”

While CTA’s don’t correlate to revenue in any real way, it does generate quantitative data. Telling you how much potential interest there was in your terrible doggy spa idea. Another example of quantitative data is A/B testing. How many people preferred your buy button next to the product as opposed to those who preferred it placed at the bottom of the page.

MVP’s (Minimum Viable Products), the bare bones. Coded with mock data or mocked with no data it must function as closely to your intended solution as possible and be the least amount of work. The route chosen is dependent on how complex the problem is your trying to solve. The semantics around, what is minimum, what is viable, are tackled on both a subjective and objective level again with examples of each. However one thing is for sure when creating MVP’s, lo or hi-fi, in balsamiq (wire framing tool) or on paper you must include just enough information to communicate the solution to your user while not leaving it open to interpretation. Lorem ipsum and a loose cube does not a mock-up make. Why? If your intending to layout your key information what better time to discover it doesn’t fit than before you’ve invested time making it pretty.

Early on the importance of qualitative data is laid out and how often we like to see metrics that trend clearly rather then useful data. Using number of sign ups to explain the problem, I’m going to paraphrase but she does a much better job in the book. Number of sign ups will only ever show upwards trends, this also assumes that the original sign ups are even still interested. Therefore a much better metric to measure would be Number of Active Users, displaying the much more useful figure of signed up users who actually continued to interact with what you did.  Gather data that displays the way the users feel, think and act in relation to not just your MVP’s but the problem its self.

Communication with your  team and users is important at every stage of the process but is especially important once you’ve got something tangible to assess. The book doesn’t suggest following every piece of advice  from everyone with a check book. But does really drive home the necessity for good and regular channels of communication.

In summary the books main markets is people with an interest in lean and ux. However the range of knowledge within would be of use to a broader array of disciplines than the cover would have you believe. If you’ve made it this far and are still unsure you can always check out a free sample of the book from the publisher below.