Process mapping creates value as it helps people understand the business context of the work they are doing. One tool to do this is the SIPOC diagram.
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Whether you want to understand how customers move through your small business, or mapping the processes used on a major civil engineering project, SIPOC is a visual process mapping tool that can help you see the big picture, identify the individuals involved and then plan more effectively – especially if you intend to change a process.
But what’s it all about? Read on…
What is a SIPOC Diagram?
A SIPOC (say: sigh-pok) diagram is a simple way of recording an end-to-end business process.
SIPOC stands for:
It’s a visual process mapping technique, and it is used to create clarity before digging into the deeper levels of the business process.
In other words, it’s a good way to get everyone on the same page before you start mapping the detail. You end up with a SIPOC diagram that shows the process at high level.
Here’s a totally generic SIPOC template that gives you an idea of what the end result should look like.
Let’s look at the different areas of the SIPOC diagram in more detail.
Every process starts with the people who provide inputs to the process. These are the suppliers.
Typical suppliers include your own staff (all the different departments involved) and customers. You may also have third-party suppliers providing other information. For example, if you are talking about a process to register an account on your company website, a supplier might be the web hosting company.
In project management terms, these are the people identified as your project stakeholders.
Action: Make a list of the people who supply information, services or other types of input to the process.
Inputs are what are required by the process. These are transformed into what the customer needs during the process.
Typical inputs could be pieces of information, materials, or the technical environment. In the example of creating an account on a website, inputs would include credit card details, customer name, address, and so on.
Action: Make a list of all the inputs to this process.
At this step you define the high level process. By now you’ve got clear on what and who are helping this process happen. Now you have to plot out the five to seven major steps in the process.
These should be at a really high level. You’re not trying to map out the exact step-by-step flow here. It’s only to give a flavour of what is happening at the most basic level.
This would be your Level 1 process. It gives you the building blocks to create a more detailed process map or flow diagram later, which will have the level of detail required to show someone exactly what happens step-by-step. The SIPOC process is more to ensure everyone is clear about the big picture and that you can easily identify what’s happening.
In our website registration process, the steps would be something like:
- Customer arrives at website
- Customer navigates to account page
- Customer enters details
- Account is created
- Email confirmation is issued to customer
Action: Record the high level steps of the process. This isn’t a detailed overview, so keep your mini-process map to around 5 items.
This is exactly as you’d expect – what comes out of the process. Once your inputs have been transformed by the process, this is what you get at the end.
If you register on a website, you get out a new customer account, and maybe you’d want to identify that as a new marketing lead as well. An output for the customer would be the email notification, and perhaps a welcome email offering a discount off your products, for example.
Action: Complete your SIPOC template by making a list of the outputs of this process.
These are the customers of the process. This could look like a similar list to the suppliers list that you put together at the beginning, or it might look significantly different. Common customers on projects include staff in different departments, the end user (the customer on the street) and third party vendors who then take the output and do something else with it.
The customers of the website registration process would be your end user (the customer who has registered on the website) and the sales and marketing team who can take that customer data and use it for marketing purposes. There may be other people in the business who would use the information created in the process.
Action: Make a list of customers and add it to the SIPOC template.
Why Use SIPOC?
SIPOC is a good tool for creating understanding. You might ask why it’s important to do process mapping for a process you understand well, if you are about to change it. It is worth doing: because you can only appreciate the impact of a process change if you know what the process is in the first place.
That’s why plenty of projects start off with mapping existing processes, or at least reviewing the last time process mapping was done and ensuring that whatever process flow was produced back then is still accurate for today’s project.
Creating a SIPOC
A SIPOC diagram is supposed to be a creative, collaborative endeavour. It’s something you can do as a team, talking openly and bouncing around ideas.
The easiest way to create your process map is to work with your colleagues in a workshop-style setting. Grab your mindmapping software, start from a blank page (or a template) and start getting your ideas down. You can always edit them later.
Limitations of SIPOC
The SIPOC model is only really good at drawing out the high level process. It’s not going to give you the detailed steps required to, say, put together a training manual or write a user guide. It’s quite simplistic but it does act as a good starting point.
Could you see a value for this in your business?
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