19 minutesBy Canva Team

Creating a process map: How-tos, templates, and tips

Take a deep dive into process mapping, how to use it for explaining, analyzing, and improving complex processes, and how to maximize Canva’s whiteboard tools to create a process map with your team.
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What is process mapping?

Process mapping is a project management technique that visualizes a process or workflow. It breaks down a complex process into concrete steps from start to finish, showing the tasks required to turn an input into an output. Process maps can also indicate the people responsible for each task or step.

The goal of a process map is to foster a better understanding of a process, and to achieve this, a process map uses simple flowchart symbols that are easy to recognize and digest.

Sample process map template with simple flowchart symbols

This sample process map illustrates the process of reaching out to a customer and closing a deal.

Think about all the steps it takes for your package to arrive at your doorstep, the tasks you need to accomplish to register a business, or the process of enrolling for graduate school. If you went through any of those, then you probably went through a process that's been mapped out.

History of process maps

Process mapping traces its origins to the process chart, an early project management technique first introduced in a paper titled "Process Charts, First Steps in Finding the One Best Way to Do Work(opens in a new tab or window)." This work was co-authored by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and presented at the 1921 annual meeting of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

The first process chart served the same function as the modern process map: to visualize a process with the goal of improving it. Since then, the process chart has been adopted by various industries, eventually evolving into the process map we use today.

What is the purpose of a process map?

The ultimate purpose of a process map is to visually communicate the step-by-step of a complex process, so that everyone gains a clearer understanding of that process and where each role stands. Think of process maps as a precise bird’s eye view of an entire workflow.

That said, how can a better understanding of a process help your organization?

Sample process map template for an organization

A process map like this gives you a clear picture of your workflow.

Overall process improvement

Because process mapping requires a step-by-step deconstruction of a process, it provides concrete evidence of bottlenecks, redundancies, and inefficiencies within the process. This eliminates guesswork when looking for points for improvement — your team knows exactly which part of the process to prune or fine-tune. You also discover which actions could be automated.

In addition, process mapping enables better problem-solving. Using a process map as a reference for existing processes, your team can plan for different scenarios and prepare contingencies.

Better communication and collaboration

With an effective process map, the people working together within a process can communicate and collaborate better. If you know where you are in the workflow, you develop ownership and responsibility toward your work. Moreover, creating a process map:

  • Helps delineate roles and responsibilities
  • Prevents overlaps across teams or assignees
  • Sets clear boundaries involving tasks

Working and communicating with clients is also easier with a process map. Instead of launching into a lengthy explanation of how a process works, you can easily whip out a process map with a clear beginning, middle, and end, and everyone will be on the same page.

Process documentation and standardization

A process map is an excellent process documentation tool, a reference you can use repeatedly for onboarding and training. It’s effective for passing on knowledge and keeping your processes standardized, especially as your organization grows.

Aside from its day-to-day benefits at work, proper process documentation and standardization can prepare your organization for ISO compliance.

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Dealing with lots of docs? Keep all your process documentation on brand with Brand Kit. Easily apply your organization’s colors, fonts, and imagery to all your designs and documents.

Components of a process map

To be universally understood, a process map uses common flowchart symbols to represent various aspects of a process, including the start and end, the steps to get there, and the decision points. Below is a list of the most popularly used symbols in process mapping.

An oval or round, elongated shape that represents the start/end symbol

Start/end symbol

Also known as terminal symbols, these are oval or round, elongated symbols marking the start or end of a process, path, or flow.

A rectangle that represents the process symbol

Process symbol

A rectangle that represents an action, step, function, or process. It’s a versatile symbol used anywhere on the process map.

A diamond-shaped symbol that represents the decision symbol

Decision symbol

A diamond-shaped symbol denoting decisions. The process usually branches into two paths from a decision symbol.

The flow arrow or flowline connects the blocks or symbols to one other

Flow arrow

The flow arrows or flowlines connect the blocks or symbols to one other, showing the correct sequence of the process.

A rectangle with a wavy bottom that represents the document symbol

Document symbol

A rectangle with a wavy bottom indicating that a document will be created or received in that step of the process.

Stacked document symbols that represent the multiple documents symbol

Multiple documents symbol

These are stacked document symbols indicating that multiple documents are used or produced in that step.

A parallelogram that represents the input/output symbol

Input/output symbol

A parallelogram that represents data or resources that are entering or leaving the process.

A rectangle with a slanted top that represents the manual input symbol

Manual input symbol

A rectangle with a slanted top denoting a step where data must be entered manually.

A rectangle with one rounded-out end that represents the delay symbol

Delay symbol

A rectangle with one rounded-out end representing potential or planned delays in the process.

A hexagon that represents the preparation symbol

Preparation symbol

A hexagon that represents preparation or a set-up stage for the following step.

A circle with two intersecting lines inside it that represents the Or symbol

Or symbol

A circle with two intersecting lines inside it, indicating a process is splitting into more than two branches.

A circle or dot that represents the connector symbol

Connector symbol

A circle or dot connecting the process map in place of a long line, in case it’s split. It indicates where the flow continues.

Standard flowchart symbols
Ease your way into process mapping by sticking to the standards. Start by using universal flowchart symbols available on Canva Whiteboards.

Types of process maps

There are various types of process maps used for different processes and workflows. While the goal of any process map is the same — that is, to visualize a process — some formats are better suited for certain applications. Let’s look at the different types of process maps, how to draw them, and where they’re best applied.

Sample Onboarding Workflow Diagram

A sample swimlane process map of an onboarding process.

A high-level process map is also referred to as a top-down process map or value chain map. It’s the most minimal type of process map, showing only the most essential steps or actions mapped out in a top-down manner. It doesn’t show decision points, personnel, and other details.

Ideal application

Because a high-level process map shows only the basic steps, it’s best used when discussing key business processes with management, clients, and third-party collaborators.

How to draw

Identify 4-8 key steps of a process. Arrange the steps sequentially on a horizontal line. Use rectangles for the actions and ovals for the start and end of the process. Lastly, connect the steps using arrows.

High-level process map
This sample high-level process map contains only the start, end, and process symbols.

A detailed process map is an elaboration of the high-level process map. While its high-level counterpart contains only the key steps, a detailed process map contains all the elements to support each action or step, including subprocesses and decision points.

Ideal application

The detailed process map is a great tool to analyze processes for improvement. With its level of detail, a detailed process map helps teams identify inefficiencies and make concrete plans and contingencies.

How to draw

Start with a high-level process map. Then, gather more information and drill down on each step. Show the intricacies, decision points, inputs or triggers, variances, alternatives, and more. Keep going until you reach the output.

A swimlane map is also referred to as a deployment map or cross-functional map. Unlike other process maps, swimlane maps emphasize who’s responsible for each step. Its primary goal is to highlight the personnel, department, or stakeholders involved in the process and how they interact with one another in transforming an input into an output.

Ideal application

A swimlane map is the best type of process map for onboarding and training new personnel. It clearly shows trainees where they fit in the workflow and how their responsibilities connect with those of other stakeholders. Additionally, a swimlane map helps identify parts of the process that cause delays due to redundancies in roles or over-inspection.

How to draw

Identify all the stakeholders involved in a process. Draw a row or column (a swimlane) for each department or stakeholder. Map out the steps that each stakeholder is responsible for within their designated swimlane. Then, use arrows to connect the steps to illustrate their sequence.

A value stream map illustrates the complicated process of bringing a product to the customer. It’s a level-up on the detailed process map and the swimlane map; in addition to having all the details of both these maps, a value stream map also:

  • Documents the cycle time for each step
  • Shows the flow of materials and information through the entire process

Because a value stream map is much more complex, it may use uncommon process map symbols to indicate certain pieces of information.

Ideal application

As a lean management tool, the value stream map is the best type of process map for identifying wastes and inefficiencies within a process. By providing a clear picture of the flow of materials and information, a value stream map helps teams understand the nuances of the process and pinpoint where delays and bottlenecks may occur. The team can also use it to support a new project focus in the future.

How to draw

Identify the start and end points and place them at the top left and top right corner of the whiteboard. Then, add the steps to be taken to bring a product to a customer. In each step, you may identify the number of people involved and other info such as cycle time, changeover time, and others. Connect each step with arrows to show the sequence. On the arrows, you may indicate the inventory. If your process includes shipment, you may also use relevant symbols to show how the materials are transferred and the wait time.

You can also include a symbol between the start and end points to represent the center of control, which is responsible for the flow of information. From the center of control, use arrows to indicate the flow of information: forecasts, updates, and more.

Below this map, you can draw the timeline of the process. Take into account both non-value-added time and value-added time.

SIPOC stands for suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers. It differs from other types of process maps because it categorizes the elements of a workflow into five distinct categories:

  • Suppliers who provide the input
  • Input, which could be data, effort, or material
  • Process, which could be a task or action
  • Output, which is the expected result or product
  • Customers who use or benefit from the output

Ideal application

A SIPOC diagram is helpful for narrowing down the key elements of any complex process. Teams also make a SIPOC process map as a precursor to a detailed process map.

How to draw

Draw five columns representing the suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers. Create a high-level process map in the Process column. Then for each step, fill out the rest of the columns. Identify its input, then name the supplier of that input. Identify the output, and then name the customers or recipients of that output.

How different industries use process mapping

Process maps are a tried and tested project management tool, regardless of the industry. As an organization grows, workflows become more complicated. Process maps keep its processes in check, provide a standard measure of success, and show where to streamline or make improvements. It’s no surprise, therefore, that process maps are used by many industries.

Apart from industrial engineering, where process maps are widespread, here are other industries that use process mapping techniques:

The primary goal of sales is to convert potential customers into paying customers. To achieve this, your team needs a process map to help you move through the sales cycle efficiently.

A sales process map guides you from the early stages until the closing of a deal. You can also make a post-sales process map to take you through the steps of nurturing an account and gaining loyalty. Process maps also help your team establish contingency plans along the way.

Sample template
Start your sales process map with this detailed template.

Finance involves a lot of internal and external processes, so process maps are essential for efficient workflows. In addition, process maps can increase transparency and accountability in your finance department by identifying the people or teams responsible for each step in a process.

Lastly, a process map allows your finance group to identify risk-prone stages in sensitive processes. Spotting such steps gives you the opportunity to put proactive risk reduction measures in place.

Process mapping unties the chain of complexities that a supply chain entails. With so many parts moving at the same time, a process map helps your team keep track of the movement of materials through the chain until they successfully reach their destinations.

With a clear process map, not only will you easily comply with global industry standards, but you’ll also anticipate and plan for possible risks, emergencies, and disruptions to the chain, like:

  • Unexpected increase in demands
  • Material shortages
  • Delays in transit

A single advertising campaign could involve a chain of production houses, post-production agencies, billboard production and placement teams, and many more. A process map helps your advertising team manage such a large project by:

  • Supporting collaboration across groups and agencies
  • Ensuring creative control and quality of the results

A marketing process map, on the other hand, helps illustrate technical workflows, like SEO audits or digital ad campaign implementations. A standardized process map paves the way for clear key performance indicators and increases the chances of project success.

Process mapping allows healthcare professionals and institutions to provide consistently excellent patient care. As a healthcare practitioner, you can use process maps to, among others:

  • Map out patient journeys with care
  • Provide transparent surgical procedure maps for your patients’ peace of mind
  • Optimize emergency department, medication, and health record management

Manufacturing involves countless processes like:

  • Transforming raw materials into a final product
  • Processing orders for delivery
  • Addressing and resolving complaints

The primary goal is to deliver consistently high-quality products in a cost-effective and time-efficient manner. This means manufacturing companies need to map their process flows regularly. Through process mapping, manufacturers will:

  • Reduce waste where possible without affecting product quality or the level of service
  • Find opportunities for automation to improve working conditions

People operations or human resources aims to support the employee experience and empower employees to fulfill their roles. Having efficient workflows and processes is one way the department can achieve this. Some of the processes that benefit from a standardized process map include:

  • Job application
  • Onboarding and training
  • Payroll processes
  • Offboarding

How to create a process map?

While there are different types of process maps, creating one follows the same procedure. Whether you’re making one with pen, paper, and sticky notes or with digital process mapping tools like Canva Whiteboards, here are steps to maximize process mapping for your organization.

Choose from various process map templates

Before you create a process map, identify exactly what process you want to map out and what you hope to achieve after process mapping.

For example, do you want to review your customer service process and determine how to improve your response time? Or are you starting a new project to increase brand engagement?

To guide your process mapping initiative, give your process map a title that describes what you’re mapping out.

You can create a process map on your own, but having a team to bounce ideas off of is definitely more helpful and efficient. If possible, invite the people who play a role in implementing and managing that specific process. Their unique perspectives will make the resulting process map well-rounded and more accurate.

To keep your process mapping succinct, set the boundaries of the process you’re mapping. Determine where the process starts and where it ends. The best way to identify the start and end points is to figure out what triggers the entire process and what the desired output is.

To ensure the accuracy of your process map, your process mapping team needs to perform information gathering and a complete process walk-through. The information gathering can come in the form of:

  • Face-to-face interviews with the personnel involved in each step
  • Data gathering from stakeholders and clients

During data gathering, a key principle to keep in mind is that you’re mapping the process in its current state and not how it should be.

After data gathering, the process mapping team then reconvenes, analyzes the information gathered, and lists all the steps, making sure everything’s complete, correct, and accounted for.

Once you have all the steps and actions listed, it’s time to arrange them in the proper order from beginning to end. At this point, you and your team can identify if there are any gaps in the information gathered.

After arranging the steps in sequence, you can now start creating a process map. Based on your original goal, choose what type of process map would align with your needs.

For example, if your goal is to clarify the responsibilities of each department when onboarding a new employee, a swimlane process map would meet your objective. If you simply need a basic process map to present to a client, a high-level process map will do.

Once you’ve decided on a process map type, start drafting it. For your team’s guidance, put a legend of process map symbols on your digital whiteboard.

Review the process map with your team, send it to stakeholders and other involved personnel for checking, and make revisions as needed. Guide the feedback by asking the following questions:

  • Are the steps accurately described?
  • Are the steps in the right order?
  • Are there any steps we missed?
  • Are there any redundant steps?
  • Is the process map clear and easy to understand?

Now that you have your current state process map, you can keep it for documentation or analyze it for improvement. If you want to improve processes, your team can turn your process map into a rendered process map. This type of process map represents both the current state and future state of a process, identifying the points for improvement and contrasting it with the ideal state.

You can mark where the process could be improved and add actionable suggestions. You can also ask stakeholders for recommendations and note them on the process map.

Get inspired with process map templates

Start strong on your process mapping with pre-made templates that your team can easily customize to your needs. Add as many symbols as your workflow requires and customize the fonts and colors to your branding. Create, collaborate, share, and get feedback on your process map all in one platform.

Process mapping best practices

An effective process map needs to be precise and easy to understand. Whether you’re making a high-level process map or a complex swimlane diagram, your process map should be clear to stakeholders and new members of the team. To achieve this, follow these best practices:

Start by establishing clear process map objectives

When you begin your process mapping journey, be as specific as possible with your objectives. Your process mapping team needs to agree on the intent of the diagram. A definite objective keeps you from straying during the information gathering and keeps you anchored during the actual process mapping exercise.

When setting the objective, one guiding principle is to map processes with a defined output or end product. Avoid processes with abstract outcomes or find ways to translate those into concrete outputs.

Another useful practice before information gathering is to draft a high-level process map as a starting point. This rough draft can serve as a framework and reference for verifying details during the info-gathering phase.

Sample Workflow Diagram

Before you begin, it helps to have a clear objective for making a process map.

Map your current process honestly

When creating a process map — especially one that aims for process improvement — it’s important to be honest about the current state of the process. Only then can you correctly identify the bottlenecks, gaps, and redundancies.

So if you have the chance, don’t skip out on interviewing various team members and stakeholders during info-gathering. They may have pain points and observations that only they can see.

With testimonies of inefficiencies, your team can then brainstorm and recommend concrete ways to redesign certain steps in your process. Perhaps what you need is automation or additional personnel. You’ll only be able to solve issues when you know where the issues lie.

Keep only the necessary details on your map

For a process map to be effective, it needs to be concise with just the right level of detail. That’s why it’s important to have a collaborative process mapping team and to send the process map for feedback. This ensures you’re not missing out on information but also not going overboard with the level of detail.

Aside from action steps, here are the details you need in a detailed process map:

  • Inputs and outputs at every step
  • Decision points and the alternative routes
  • Relevant subprocesses with simple descriptions

To keep your process map streamlined, start your action descriptions with verbs. Use icons, colors, and legends to represent notations if possible.

Use icons, colors, and legends to represent notations in your process map

Easily edit the text, icons, and colors of your process map on Canva Whiteboards.

Keep everything understandable and consistent

Flowchart symbols keep your process map understandable, but if used inconsistently, they create confusion. It’s good practice to check your process map not just for accuracy in the steps but also in the symbols used. Ensure that your use of shapes, colors, and other icons is consistent throughout the diagram to avoid confusion and miscommunication.

Not only will this help your current team; this will also guarantee that your process map is future-proof, useful not just for process improvements but also for documentation and knowledge transfer.

One last thing: once you’ve applied the recommendations, monitor the changes, revisit the process map, and update it where necessary.

Process mapping FAQs

One of the best tools for process mapping is an online process map creator. Our online process map maker, for example, offers an infinite whiteboard space that anyone in your team can access in real time, beautiful process map templates that you can customize, and a library of graphics and flowchart symbols you can easily drag and drop onto your process map.

Your team should do process mapping on the following occasions:

  • Brainstorming for a new project
  • Post-mortem of a recently concluded project
  • Yearly audits and planning sessions
  • Introduction of new technology relevant to your process
  • Onboarding and training new team members
  • Refreshers for current team members
  • Applying for ISO certification

While there’s no one-size-fits-all for process maps, here are common pitfalls that make a process map ineffective:

  • No clear objective: Without a clear purpose, you’ll produce a process map without a direction.
  • Too many details: A process map without boundaries will be hard to comprehend. A rule of thumb is to keep steps and tasks to 20. Stick to the essentials while process mapping.
  • Not enough details: On the other hand, a process map that’s too bare won’t be useful. To keep your process map from looking like a basic flowchart, incorporate information from partners and stakeholders involved in the process.
  • Inconsistent notation: Inconsistent process mapping notation reflects poorly on your organization. It also keeps your process map from being future-proof.

A value stream map is a type of process map that captures not just the steps and decisions from input to output but also the flow of materials and information, including the number of personnel for each task, cycle times, waiting times, and lead times. Value stream mapping is typically used for upper management decision-making and process overhauls.

This is in contrast to less detailed process maps, which are used for processes that are smaller in scope or those that involve external stakeholders.

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