The What, Why, and How of Process Mapping


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Operational risk includes people risk, technology risk, external event risk, and process risk. In this article, let's talk about process risk and how to reduce these risks through process mapping.

When employees leave organizations, these entities may loose daily operational knowledge. You know. The people that know how to get things done are now gone. And these organizations often lack process documentation. Furthermore, they fail to cross train other employees adequately.

So, who is impacted? Employees for sure. But most importantly, the customer is adversely impacted. 



Operational risk - the risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed processes, people, and systems or from external events. —Basel II

What is a Business Process?

A business process is a series of actions or steps taken resulting in output that is of value internally or externally. Business processes are the activities undertaken to provide a customer service or product. 

You experience business processes every day. Here are some examples:

  • Withdraw money from an ATM
  • Order a meal at a Chick-fil-A drive thru
  • Have an appliance delivered to your home
  • Order something from Amazon
  • Order an online course
  • File an insurance claim
  • Watch a Netflix movie

Think about it. At some point, someone defined each of these processes and the business rules. Additionally, companies trained their employees. 

“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing” – W. Edwards Deming

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The Benefits of Process Mapping

Why should organizations map processes? There are many benefits.

  • Makes the processes visible — allows process owners and stakeholders to refine the processes
  • Improves business workflows
  • Allows process owners to identify the financial controls that are  needed
  • Use the process maps for training
  • Prioritize and plan the operational processes that must be executed first when external event risks (i.e., loss of a facility) occur

A Culture of Process Management

I've had the privilege of managing many software and process improvement projects. In most cases, there was no documentation of the business processes. Therefore, the project teams had to map the processes.

I encouraged teams to map current processes in a light manner. That is to say, we needed to understand the current process enough to map the future-state process.

Mapping processes for projects can require a good bit of time. Teams may spend 20-30% of their projects just mapping processes. Imagine how much faster these organizations could complete projects if the processes were already mapped.

I've actually implemented an enterprise business analyst department/team for this express purpose. Use your interpersonal skills to educate and influence your senior leaders to build a culture of process management.

Tools for Process Mapping

There are many ways to map business process. Here are a few examples:

  1. Swimlanes
  2. Agile User Stories
  3. SIPOC Diagram
  4. Use Case (plus free template)

Process Map

If your company has a standard approach to process mapping, then adopt it. If not, work with other key stakeholders in your company to select appropriate method to map your processes.

If you are mapping processes for a project, project managers should plan their approach in the requirements management plan. Will you take a traditional or agile approach? Who will be the business analyst? What tools and techniques will you use?

Why Project Managers Need Business Analysts

Many project managers lack business analysis skills such as eliciting, analyzing, documenting, and validating requirements. Even if the project manager has business analysis experience, project managers often lack the capacity to perform business analysis tasks and handle the project management responsibilities.

For those of you who are interested in becoming a business analyst, check out the growing field of business analysis. The International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA) offers the CBAP (Certified Business Analysis Professional) certification. The Project Management Institute (PMI) has also created the new PMI-PBA (Professional in Business Analysis) certification to equip project managers with stronger business analysis skills.

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