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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.

The Nine Principles of Thought and Construction

For a great deal of us it’s inevitable that at some point we’re going to get handed a project that is less than inspirational. But with the deadline looming and your creativity threatening to never return how can we rekindle that love you once had?

To tackle this very issue a while ago I took a step back from my work to take a closer look at what put that spring in my step when coming up against those potentially uninspiring hurdles of doom. Through the insight I gathered from critiquing the life cycle of my past projects, some sadly proving to be less successful than others. I boiled my process down to its fundamentals to create a new working process, The Nine Principles of Thought and Construction, that I could apply to various new endeavors to avoid those disheartening lulls that plague even the most creative of thinkers. At first reciting these nine principles in an order that sounded pleasing I thought I’d cracked it, but there was still something missing.

Potential: Materials and information required to further the current state.

Deconstruction: The exploration and relations between collected data.

Manipulation: Amendments and alterations made to the current state.

Repetition: Knowledge gathered through the recurrence of events.

Composition: Structure or  arrangement of elements.

Unreliability: Removal and interrogation of potential inconsistency.

Contrast: Juxtaposition of resources to provide depth.

Enhancements: Improvements and value delivered.

Dilapidation: Expected life cycle of outcome and augmentation of degradation.

The above process, while high level enough to provide a solid foundation to a range of projects lacked the freedom to spark up those lightening bolts of inspiration that strike us when we least expect it. Realising that producing truly creative and innovative solutions isn’t something that can be scripted, I discovered that the something missing was chance. Asking myself how I could introduce this elusive factor, while retaining the efficiency injected into industries of a repetitive nature through application of refined and efficient process. I placed focus on the unknown by separating out the once rigid order of my principles onto flash cards, that could then be applied iteratively to my work.

You can use the final cards and system below to provide a starting point to get deeply involved in even the blandest of projects. Keeping efforts short and focused to prevent stagnation reveal a card, explore the subject matter as prompted. Revealing the next card approach your existing research from the new point of view, continue to do this until you build up a basic range of ideas you would like to explore, you may want to deliberately revisit some of the principles to see how your generated ideas stand up. The random order allows the process to evolve while providing a focal point. This approach often takes me down avenues for potential solutions I may not have discovered while following a more rigid process. Providing an interesting way to apply a critical point of view to my discovery process and the creation of a wider range of solutions.

Nine Principles of Thought & Construction

[Click Card to Reload]

Through pursuing this project I discovered that what kept my momentum in full swing wasn’t just the satisfaction of a job well done, but also the opportunity to explore and grow when delving deeper into new subjects. I hope this method helps you stay active when facing your own challenges. Remember it’s the gaps in between where we can gather the skills and experience we need that provide us with the momentum to leap over those potential hurdles of doom in the future.