What is Business Process Mapping? | Definition, Key Concepts, & Guide

Written by Jonathan Richter

If you’re like most business owners, you’re often thinking of ways to streamline, simplify, or even automate your business process. How much time could be saved automating manual routine tasks? Could you increase sales with a streamlined communication or on-boarding process? Exploring these kinds of opportunities will help people at all levels of your organization save time, money, and stress.

But in order to plan for the future effectively, your first step should be making sure that you have a thorough understanding of how the business operates today. After all, the last thing you want to do is automate the wrong processes because you don’t have the proper blueprint to reference. This approach is known as Business Process Mapping, and it’s vital for your company to explore growth with tech-enabled automation.

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Defining Business Process Mapping

Definition

So what’s the definition of Business Process Mapping? Business process mapping involves outlining what a business entity does today, defining the rules and standards of a successful business process, and determining who is responsible for what at each stage.

Business Process Mapping definition by Winnona Partners
Business Process Mapping definition by Winnona Partners

Simply put, mapping answers the questions surrounding what the processes are, and how they happen from start to finish today, along with who’s responsible. People typically figure this out by creating a visual representation such as a flowchart.

Mapping vs Modeling

The key concept to pay attention to here is that mapping involves outlining how processes exist today–not in the future.

Scoping out a future process or exploring what-if scenarios is known as Business Process Modeling, and should only happen once the existing process is correctly mapped out.

Similar to mapping, modeling usually involves visual representations too, like decision trees and flowcharts.

So what’s the difference between these two terms in a nutshell? Ultimately, mapping is for your current process, modeling is for future processes.

Top 7 Business Process Terms, Definitions, & Concepts You Should Know

Want to learn more important business process terms and concepts? Check out our related article: Top 7 Business Process Terms & Concepts You Should Know

How to Map Your Business Process – 3 Step Guide

By now, you know that business process mapping is all about understanding how your business operates today. But how do you actually go about mapping your business process?

To help answer this important question, we’ve come up with a 3-step approach:

  1. Chart your business process as it exists today
  2. Define your standards and rules for success
  3. Determine who is responsible at every stage

1. Chart your business process as it exists today

Creating a visual representation of your operations is the first and most important step to mapping your business process.

Sometimes we hear business leaders say things like “I already understand how my business operates, I don’t need to draw it out.” However, mapping isn’t just something you do for your own sake, it’s a way to offer transparency and build understanding organization-wide.

So although it might seem rudimentary, charting your processes throughout your entire organization is crucial if you want to explore means of improvement or automation.

man standing infront of white board
Photo by Christina Morillo on Pexels.com

In addition, having an up-to-date flowchart of your business process will be extremely useful if unknown issues start emerging. With mapping, instead of wondering where in the chain things are falling through the cracks, you’ll be able to quickly spot where the issues are occurring, when, and who is responsible.

You might want to start with an organization chart to account for all departments and employees. From there, you can focus on the workflows of each branch or department individually.

Ultimately, the goal is to chart all steps in your business processes as it exists today from start to finish. Some of these processes may be completely unrelated to one another, and that’s OK! One of the main benefits of creating a chart is so people at various levels of your organization can have a reliable diagram to better understand chain of command and specific business process details.

Flowchart Options

As you might expect, there are many options for creating a flowchart for your business process. Below are some of the cheapest and best options.

Whiteboard

If you’re a new business, aren’t fully confident about your process, or just prefer writing things by hand, consider buying a good old fashioned whiteboard!

Even as a tech company, we still enjoy drawing things out on a large whiteboard for the whole team to see. It’s quick, easy to use, and free (minus the price of the whiteboard). For all these reasons, a whiteboard is a great place to starting mapping your business process.

Lucidchart

Lucidchart is our favorite platform for mapping a business process. The platform is flexible, easy to use, and easily shareable with team members so you can work in a collaborative setting. Lucidchart’s pricing is also reasonable, with several tiers of service available to choose from.

Lucidchart example
Lucidchart example
Google Drawings

Google Drawings is another quality option for making a simple flowchart on a grid. Compared to Lucidchart, Google Drawings isn’t as versatile, easy to use, or aesthetically pleasing–but it is free!

You can access Google Drawings in your Google Drive (click the “+ New”button, then hover over “More”).

2. Define your standards and rules for success

adult american football athlete audience
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

After you chart how your business operates today, the next step is for leaders of the organization to define the standards and rules for how your business should operate.

Why is defining business process rules and standards important? Doing so allows you to track your progress as an organization, however you define it. If you have clear standards and rules in place, these can serve as metrics which you can track day by day.

The clearer the standards and rules, the more accurately you can track performance for the company and individuals.

Many leaders set ‘goals’ for success. However, setting rules and standards is a much more explicit and better method than setting goals. Why? Because rules and standards specifically address how you’ll get from point A to point B, not just saying you should get from point A to point B.

While rules and standards are better than goals from a business process perspective, as you’ll see below there’s still an important distinction to make when discussing rules vs standards.

Rules & Standards: What’s the difference?

Generally speaking, people use the terms ‘rule’ and ‘standard’ all the time without careful distinction. I’ll admit, it wasn’t until reading Daniel Khaneman’s 2021 book Noise that I really gave much thought to these terms either.

Noise book by Daniel Khaneman
Noise by Daniel Khaneman

In Noise, Khaneman claims that a leading cause of miscommunication and lower employee performance is due to confusion over whether or not something should be a standard or a rule. More often than not, important tasks that are set up as standards should actually be rules.

For example:

  • Standard: When speaking with a client on the phone, you should try your best to be helpful and answer all their questions.
  • Rule: When speaking with a client on the phone, always ask “is there anything else I can help you with today?” before you end the call.

Another example:

  • Standard: Try your best to keep your desk tidy and clean.
  • Rule: Throw away all trash and food waste at your desk before you leave for the day.

Even from the simple examples above, can you see how standards leave a lot more room for interpretation than rules? Standards are nice, but they leave a lot more room for individual variance (another word for “noise”).

When to use Rules vs. Standards

person s index finger
Photo by Steve Johnson on Pexels.com

With rules, at least people can be clear on exactly what they should be doing, when, and how. The action becomes binary; you’ve either done the task correctly or not. On the surface this might sound a little harsh. But in reality, people like having clear directions so they’re not left wondering whether or not they’re doing a good job.

That being said, it’s important to remember that rules are not necessarily better than standards in every case. In creative settings, such as writing an article or designing a creative branding initiative, setting standards will probably produce better (and more creative) work!

Has your organization set standards in situations where they should really be rules? Or, has your organization implemented so many rules that creativity and innovation is getting stifled?

This step in the mapping process is an excellent opportunity to think critically about your current process. If you can clarify your expectations using rules and standards, then your whole business process will run more effectively.

3. Determine who is responsible at every stage

close up photography of yellow green red and brown plastic cones on white lined surface
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

A significant reason why organizations and leaders struggle is because they’re constantly being pulled in too many different directions. How many times have you been asked to solve a problem that’s outside of your purview?

That’s why once you chart your process and define your rules and standards, the last step in business process mapping is to determine who is responsible at each stage. If you don’t, then distractions, overlap, and miscommunication will be rampant.

At every juncture in your business process, there’s a chance for something to go right or wrong. Someone working through a process might need help, and will need to know who to turn to. Or maybe one specific branch might be outperforming others in the sales department, in which case that manager should receive praise or a bonus of some kind.

Whatever the case may be, in an optimal organization structure someone is responsible for making sure things stay on track. Therefore, this last step is all about accountability.

Just imagine how much time and stress you could save by simply agreeing on who should be responsible at each stage of your business process, and including that on your organization flowchart/map. That way, when things go right or wrong, everyone knows exactly who to turn to.

Conclusion

The benefits of business process mapping are countless. But mapping is especially important for organizations who are eager to automate or improve their process. In order to figure out where you’re going next, you must have a thorough understanding of where you are today–and that’s what mapping is all about!

One of the best parts about business process mapping is that by following the three steps above, you might realize that you don’t need to invest in new software at all yet.

Just by drawing out every step of your process, defining rules and standards, and determining who should be responsible for each stage, you might bring so much newfound clarity and consistency to your organization that software automation can wait.

In fact, we only recommend exploring business process automation once you’re absolutely sure you have a solid foundation in place to begin with! Ultimately, business process mapping is an essential approach to determining whether or not your organization is ready for a future with custom software development.

Have questions about business process mapping or ready to take the next steps? Contact Winnona Partners today!


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By Jonathan Richter

Jonathan is CEO of Winnona Partners, a custom software development company based in Atlanta, GA that specializes in helping startups and small businesses thrive. He's also a classical guitarist, and has studied Chinese language, music and culture extensively.

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