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. It is used by process mappers as the standard to deliver process diagrams that are both 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 sufficiently detailed to enable the identification and analysis of performance improvement opportunities. Anyone involved in process mapping or process improvement will instantly see the benefits when they adopt this approach.

This article covers:

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.

For free process mapping software click here

The 6 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 
  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 vacant position using specification template’ and ‘Pass to Director for approval’. The other symbols are the Deliverables.

initiate_recruitment

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 vacant position using specification template’ and an Input to ‘Pass to Director for approval’.

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

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

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.)

The Benefits of the Noun-Verb Methodology

There are 3 main benefits of the Noun-Verb method:

  1. The focus on what's delivered
  2. Cost and return on investment can be easily modelled
  3. The handling of metrics is made easier and more useful

The focus on what's delivered

Using the Noun-Verb method highlights 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 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 doing the work.

So, in the example map referenced above, the first Activity "Define vacant position using specification template" 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 "Approved 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.

Young female businesswoman in the office

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.

Cost and return on investment can be easily modelled

The 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, 'Define vacant position using specification template' might cost £700, and in return for this investment, an 'Approved 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.

The handling of metrics is made easier and more useful

The 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. 

raci-matrix-responsible-accountable.png

Image from www.project-management.com

The nouns however typically relate to the information sources in the organisation. For these you want to capture 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.

In summary the characteristics of the Noun-Verb entities are as per the table below.

Noun

Verb

Productivity

Activity

Return on Investment

Investment

Information (templates, applications, …)

People (management, responsibilities, …)

 

Triaster developed the Noun-Verb process mapping methodology to solve the far too common issue of extremely complex process maps, which far from helping with process clarity, just confuse most people. At the same time the Noun-Verb approach allows sufficient data to be captured and stored in a process model to support process analysis and improvement.  

Free Process Mapping Software

For the practical application of the Noun-Verb process mapping methodology, Triaster has also developed the process mapping software Process Navigator. Process Navigator is the ultimate drag-and-drop process mapping software, and is both full of functionality and really easy to use. It is also entirely free. I suggest you download it now.

download process navigator free now

Related Articles:

Process Mapping: Who does it and why?

How To Process Map For Free with Process Navigator
 
This is an updated and refreshed edition of an article originally written in 2016. 

 

Written by Michael Cousins

Mike founded Triaster in 1994. A thought leader in business improvement, he has led Triaster ever since, spearheading its development of beautifully engineered business improvement software, that is both full of the functionality required by business analysts and that end users find really easy to use.