Noun-Verb: A Simple Process Mapping Methodology

Michael Cousins
The Noun-Verb Process Mapping Methodology is a powerful, yet very simple way to document a business process. This approach has been thoroughly proven in hundreds of organisations to deliver process diagrams that are useful to a widespread, non-specialist workforce, and at the same time to business analysts.
The Noun-Verb Method perfectly balances out the need for simple, comprehensible process diagrams that are also, at the same time, sufficiently detailed to enable the identification and analysis of performance improvement opportunities.

Firstly, what is a process?

To understand the Noun-Verb Method, it is helpful to first consider the definition of a process. The essence of a business process is that it transforms one thing to another:
  • A Customer Order is transformed into a Delivered Product
  • A Supplier Invoice is transformed into a Supplier Payment
  • A Staff Vacancy is transformed into a New Employee
A process then is defined as: 
A set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs

The Noun-Verb Method simply adopts this definition of a process, and applies it rigorously.

What is a process map?

A process map drawn is a diagram that clearly identifies the main steps involved in performing the transformation, the items used and the items produced when the process has been completed.

If you would like to know more about the different types of process mapping, read this article:  

What are the different ways to map processes?


The six main shapes used in a process map

1. An ‘Activity’ shape is used to describe something you do.
2. A ‘Deliverable’ shape is used to describe something you produce.
Activities are the steps of the process and are described using verbs.
Deliverables are the items produced (or ‘delivered’) when each step of the process is complete and are described using nouns.

These are also:

3. Inputs
4. Outputs
5. Suppliers and
6. Customers 

To help explain these terms, the diagram below shows part of a map of a recruitment process. In this diagram, the Activities are ‘Define job role’ and ‘Pass to DH for approval’. The other symbols are the Deliverables.Recruitment process

Outputs are the Deliverables produced by an Activity. These Outputs then become Inputs to other Activities; for example ‘Job specification’ is both an Output from ‘Define job role’ and an Input to ‘Pass to DH for approval’.

Suppliers are the people, organisations or Activities that produce the Inputs. Customers are the people, organisations or Activities that use the Outputs.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Business Process Mapping

What is the Noun-verb methodology of process mapping?

The rules of the Noun-Verb method are very simple:

  1. Each Input or Output is described using a noun,
  2. Each Activity is described using a verb.
  3. Each separate page of a process map must have at least one Page Input (i.e. a Deliverable with no Suppliers on the same page) and at least one Page Output (i.e. a Deliverable with no Customers on the page).
  4. No two verbs can be directly connected, and no two nouns can be directly connected. (This is a recommendation rather than a rule and can be strongly or weakly enforced depending on the nature of the content being produced and the level of detail.)

What are the benefits of using the Noun-verb methodology?

1. The first major benefit relates to the difference between Activity and Productivity.

In the Noun-Verb Method, the verbs (Activity shapes) represent 'work performed'. The problem however is that a person can perform work all day long and not actually deliver anything of any value.

The nouns (Deliverable shapes) represent 'product delivered', i.e. they explicitly identify the benefit of performing work.

So, in the example map referenced above, the first verb "Initiate Recruitment" is in and of itself not at all valuable, in fact, it represents a cost to the organisation.

The value of performing the work however is explicitly documented in the output that is delivered, in this case the "Recruitment Brief".

In the Noun-Verb Method, the process author is required to document Activity and Productivity. As such, they are required to understand precisely why a given Activity does actually deliver something of value, and to record precisely what this is.

Product-Manufacturing_2.pngImage from

Without the discipline of Noun-Verb, the tendency is to focus very heavily on the verbs, and the process map then simply becomes a list of things people do; it is what people deliver that matters most however, and the adoption of Noun-Verb requires equal focus on delivery.

2. A second major benefit of explicitly separating out nouns and verbs is that Investment and Return-on-Investment can be modelled. Clearly, the verbs in the process model represent areas of investment; a person has to be paid to perform a task, or machinery purchased and so on. The nouns on the other hand represent the return for making that investment. So, "Initiate Recruitment" might cost £700, and in return for this investment, a "Recruitment Brief" is received. Using the Noun-Verb Method it is possible to perform this analysis on a micro or macro level simply by aggregating costs.

Download the Ultimate Guide to Business Process Mapping

3. A third major benefit comes from the recognition that the verbs in the model typically relate to the work people perform; as such, attributes relating to:

  • Responsibility
  • Accountability
  • Time
  • Effort etc.
are typically stored in the model behind the verbs. The nouns however typically relate to the information sources in the organisation. One is therefore more interested in understanding the applications used to produce or store the output, the location of the template to produce it etc. By separating the nouns from the verbs, the handling of metrics that describe the model is made much clearer, more tractable and more useful.


Image from

The characteristics of the Noun-Verb entities are summarised in the table below.





Return on Investment


Information (templates, applications, …)

People (management, responsibilities, …)

New Call-to-action

Related Articles:

Process Mapping: Who does it and why?

Mapping business processes: What level should I map to?

Process Mapping: 5 key skills you need to have

Business Improvement: Pros and Cons of a Process Approach

Written by Michael Cousins

Mike founded Benchmark Software in 1994 and following a company merger and name change became Triaster's Managing Director in August 1995. At that stage Triaster - the first Visio Partner in the UK - delivered bespoke Visio development services. As a result of developing Visio process mapping solutions for Phillips Lighting and Nokia, Mike became convinced that in order for process mapping projects to be successful, they must engage the people responsible for delivering the process (i.e. doing the work) and he set about developing a software product to do this. The result, in the year 2000, was Process Navigator v.1! There has been a lot of development since then: of the Triaster Library, the Solution, the Team and the Triaster Community.