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Process Mapping: 6 methods to create process maps

Posted by Michael Cousins on 14/04/16 16:05
Michael Cousins
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To create a process map, one must capture the content of the process, and then transcribe that content onto a process mapping system. The focus of this article is the first part, i.e. the methods that are available to capture the content that is used to create the process map.

There are 6 main methods to create process maps, these are:

  1. Through individual staff of small group interviews
  2. Through facilitated discovery workshops
  3. Through analysis of existing documentation
  4. Through direct work observation
  5. Through business analysis design
  6. Through import of existing process maps

In many cases a combination of several of the above are required to obtain the required degree of accuracy.

Each of the different methods has its own strengths and weaknesses and particular relevance in specific circumstances. There follows a description of each of the methods and some tips for how to use them to best advantage.

1.      Individual Staff or Small Group Interviews

This method is used when the content of the process map is likely to be relatively straightforward, so only a small sample of those that perform the process are required to be involved in its definition.

The Business Analyst (BA) is responsible for creating a comfortable, focused environment where the necessary information can be gathered through direct questioning of a small sample of the people that perform the process.


Begin by defining the scope of the process to be captured (the start and end points). Then move onto the major steps involved (the Activities), and finally fill in the detail of what is produced by each of the Activities (these are the Deliverables). Use the Noun-Verb method to help keep the questioning structured and focused.

  • Have a prepared set of topics to cover and specific questions.
  • Limit the time to 1 hour per session.
  • If discussion is getting blocked on a specific area, ‘park’ the problem and come back to it later or in the next session.
  • Never overrun, much better to respect people’s time and schedule a follow-up session.

2.      Facilitated Discovery Workshops

This method is used when it is important to gain consensus or buy-in from a larger group of people than makes sense for an interview style session. It is only really appropriate therefore at higher levels of abstraction as opposed to the step-by-step detailed levels that an interview is more suited to.

Discovery workshops can be productive over a longer period than small group interviews, even over several days in fact. The trick is to retain energy and interest in the room, so a skilled, experienced facilitator will be equally concerned with the comfort and engagement of the participants than with the content that is captured.


We recommend at Triaster transcribing the process in near real-time to a projected system. This can be achieved by using a facilitator and a mapper (or if you are a gifted facilitator and mapper perhaps just the one person doing both roles!). It enables frequent walk-throughs to take place and adds a level of interest and engagement to see the process develop in real-time. 

A slight variant is to “capture in the session, map during the break, walkthrough on return”, i.e. turn the projector off during the session, map discretely and finalise during the break, and when the delegates return from breaks do a walk-through to cement understanding of the pre-break session. Practice this before you attempt to do it for real, it can be harder than it looks!

Tips for Success

  • It is the job of the participants to define the process and make the workshop successful, not the facilitator’s. The facilitator’s job is to:
    1. Involve people
    2. Keep as much energy, variation and interest in the workshop as is possible
    3. Keep to time
    4. Consider and arrange things for the comfort of the participants
    5. Stick to the facilitation process and not engage in subject matter debate – leave that to the participants
  • Get the group to go outside sometimes if possible! If not, have frequent breaks, stand-ups etc. A technique I have found useful is to ask people to “walk off in pairs” with a specific topic to focus on.
  • Keep passing responsibility back to ‘the room’ to resolve debates and answer questions. For example, let the room decide on break times, lunch times and so on. If a question comes up about workshop process, pass it to the room to decide.

3.      Analysis of existing documentation

This is an underused technique, because existing documentation is very often not considered credible. It is presumed to be out of date and inaccurate. It is also a difficult task to interpret existing documentation in the form of a process, sometimes more akin to legal analysis than business analysis!

That being said, it is a big time saver if a process can be developed (or at least drafted) from documentation alone.

The technique is most useful in process-mature environments, where the aim of the mapping exercise is to modernise, reduce the documentation burden or review the existing management system rather than create content from scratch. It also helps if the processes themselves are relatively stable and unlikely to change too often.


Tips for Success

  • Only use completer-finishers. This is a job for somebody who can hunker down and grind through until the job is done.
  • Get all the documentation sources together at the beginning, and keep that as the defined scope. It is very disheartening and intractable to manage if the documentation pool is allowed to grow mid-analysis. Much better to complete the job with the first set of documentation, then repeat if new sources emerge.

4.      Direct Work Observation

In twenty or so years of experience in the area of process capture, I have never actually witnessed this method in action. It used to be referred to as “Time and Motion” study (see for more detail).

It may have a current use in highly manual, highly inefficient manufacturing environments. My personal view is those environments probably went out of business from overseas competition, or have already changed, so the technique tends not to be used anymore.

Don’t do this at all without senior approval as it has all kinds of risks associated with negative labour relations.

5.      Business Analysis Design

This is the ‘green field’ approach to mapping, particularly useful when the process doesn’t yet exist. It is typically seen therefore in re-engineering projects and organisational or project start-ups. It can also be used in environments where to gain access to the subject matter experts is impractical or too expensive; for example, in clinical or academic environments it is often difficult to gain the time of medical experts or Professors.

It is the Business Analyst capturing the process content from their own direct knowledge of the process, or from a  variety of information sources.

Tips for Success

  • Don’t guess! If you cannot be sure, don’t make assumptions.
  • Strong approval of the process is required. So even if an SME cannot be involved, be certain to make sure an SME is responsible for sign-off and review.
  • Time-box your productivity. For example, attempt to create 4 A4 pages per day of process. This will help you avoid spending way too much time (and of course budget) on a specific process area.

6.      Import of Existing Processes

In a perfect world, processes could be imported from existing sources. Sources tend to be one of 3 types:

  • Unstructured  (documents, slides, film and spreadsheets are the most common unstructured sources)
  • Structured (process maps and flow charts for example)
  • Interchangeable (formally modelled UML, BPMN and so on)

Much work is underway in the software world in how to translate unstructured sources (the vast bulk of the world’s process information is unstructured) into structured maps. We’re not there yet though, so if the only sources you have are unstructured, then you will need to use the “Analysis of existing documentation” approach.

Some structured sources (such as those found in the Triaster system) can be imported and exported to formats that you might be able to import from. For example, Triaster can import well-structured Visio diagrams.

Interchangeable formats, such as BPML or XPDL, enable compliant systems to read and write processes in a standard way that other compliant systems can then work with. These formats however tend to be in the workflow definition space where the end aim is process automation.

Tips for Success

  • Be clear about what you are importing. Is it just the images you want (relatively easy to import), or is it the meaning of the image (very difficult in unstructured environments).
  • If the latter, recognise it is a ‘software capability and standards’ issue, rather than anything else. Today, it is virtually impossible to import unstructured content in any reliable way.

Irrespective of the method used to capture the process content, there is still then the challenge of using these methods to create process maps. This is the area Triaster can be particularly helpful, with tools that are very easy to use, so much so that with practice they can be used in real time during interviews. If you would like more detail about this, please review the systems we have to help you meet your business challenges.

The Triaster Solution

Related articles:

Process Mapping: Who does it and why?

What is the Noun-Verb methodology of process mapping?

Capturing a Business Process: 3 Tips for Process Discovery Workshops

Process Mapping: 5 Key skills you need to have

Topics: Process Mapping

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