Six Sigma Process Mapping

Instructor: James Kuhn

Jim has taught adults for more than 20 years and has a Masters Degree in Christian Leadership.

Process mapping provides a powerful visual tool, which can be utilized during multiple phases of a Six Sigma project. This lesson provides and overview of process mapping, when and how it is used, and several guidelines for its use.

Six Sigma Process Mapping

Process mapping is a technique utilized in a Six Sigma project to visualize the steps involved in a certain activity or process. In its basic form, Six Sigma process mapping is a flowchart that illustrates all of the inputs and outputs of an event, process, or activity in an easy to read, step-by-step format. Our sample graphic shows the basic process map of a client seeking help from a customer service center.

Six Sigma Process Map

What is a Process Map?

Note: More information about specific Six Sigma process is available in other lessons.

Six Sigma process maps are typically produced by the person leading the project, generally a certified Black Belt leader, but may also be assigned to a team member as a training exercise. Process maps can be produced using specialized flowchart software, which is especially helpful for more complex mapping exercises. However, the process maps can be produced using tools that are readily available in office suite software, or may also be drawn freehand. The important part is not how the map was created, but the accuracy of the process that was mapped.

There are many different types of process maps that are used during a Six Sigma project. The most commonly used process maps include:

  • Process Flow Map - The visualization of a particular workflow that you are working to improve (similar to the sample shown in this study).
  • SIPOC Map - A map that charts out the suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers for the process you are working on.
  • Swim Lane Map - Used to go deeper into an event or action and maps all of the sub-processes, hand-offs, and responsible parties of a process.

When & How Process Maps Are Used

The most basic of process maps are created in the earliest phases of the Six Sigma process, particularly in the 'Define' phase. Here, the process flow map is created to get an understanding of the process to be improved, and to ensure that all team members have a solid grasp on the steps involved in the process. Further, it marks the baseline, 'as-is' condition of the process for your project.

Also, during the Define phase a SIPOC map is always required. This is useful to make sure you have identified all of the ins and outs of the process, as well as its suppliers and end-customers. SIPOC maps can be created by the team's 'Green Belt', or candidate, as part of the required certification process.

A swim lane, or multilevel, process map is also often created as part of the 'Improve' and 'Control' phases of a Six Sigma project. Used during these stages, this process map details the improved, or 'future-state', process to be implemented by the project team. It serves as a visualization of the way activity should be processed in the future. This process map helps the team drive out any redundancy or repetition in the process being improved, and it identifies those steps that really do not add any value to the overall activity (non-value steps).

Guidelines for Process Map Use

As noted above, Six Sigma process maps are a powerful tool, but only when used correctly in a project. There are three key guidelines for use that every Six Sigma project should remember as they work on their improvements.

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