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 example that gives you an idea of what the end result should look like.
As you can see, it’s a visual tool that gives you the process (and more) on a page. Perfect for drawing out on a flip chart! Write the name of the process at the top.
If you don’t want to spend the time creating a fancy diagram, table format works just fine. Or you can get my SIPOC template which is an editable PowerPoint file to give you a headstart.
Let’s look at the different areas of the SIPOC template in more detail and how you can put one together for your own project.
Every process starts with the suppliers of the inputs: the people who provide the stuff that the process needs to get going.
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, let’s use an example of the 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.
(For all these actions, work with your team. You might want to create a straw man sample to throw up on the screen during a meeting, but the final version needs to be done collaboratively.)
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, raw 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.
Tip: Don’t forget the external inputs: things you need from other teams or other projects.
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 process steps.
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.
I’ll say it again: you don’t need much detail at this point! Keep it big picture but do include the entire process.
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: the outputs of the process. Drop these into the appropriate column.
In our SIPOC example for the website build, if you register on a website, what the process produces is a new customer account, and maybe you’d want to identify that as a new marketing lead as well.
One of the process outputs 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 key 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 who would count as internal stakeholders.
I like this step the best because it forces our team to think of the voice of the customer and to make sure that their experience gets the priority it deserves.
Action: Make a list of customers and add it to the SIPOC template.
Why Use SIPOC?
Here are some reasons why you should consider using SIPOC on your project.
- The SIPOC map is a good tool for creating understanding and understanding the scope of the process
- The SIPOC gives you a common language for talking about what the process does now and how you want it to change
- It forces you to think about the requirements of the customers, not just the requirements of the people who shout the loudest
- It’s a way to provide some focus and structure to a brainstorming session, especially if you don’t have much facilitation experience and need a hand working out how to actually get this project started.
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 creating a high level process map, or at least reviewing the last time process mapping was done and ensuring that whatever business process flow was produced back then is still accurate for today’s project.
SIPOC and Six Sigma
I learned the SIPOC approach on my Six Sigma project training course. It’s part of the Design phase in the DMAIC methodology and has become a much-used tool in industries like lean manufacturing. It’s perfect for improvement initiatives and any type of process review where you are looking for potential gaps in the way things are done.
Having said that, you don’t need to be a Six Sigma Black Belt to make use of the tool on any continuous improvement project.
Creating a SIPOC
A SIPOC diagram is supposed to be a creative, collaborative endeavour. Get all the team members involved, talking openly and bouncing around ideas. It should be a team effort to produce the chart, and if you get the right people to help, it will be packed with relevant information that will shape the next stage of the project.
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 with key steps that help you move forward.
Could you see a value for this in your business?
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