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Process Mapping in Six Sigma: Put Your Flowcharts to Work

written by: Heidi Wiesenfelder • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 3/16/2013

Creating and analyzing process maps is a key component of Six Sigma DMAIC projects and of basic process management. Find out why, and how different types of flowcharts are used.

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    Example of a process map Process mapping is a key component for both the Measure and Improve phases of the DMAIC methodology. But why does it hold such a central role?

    Understanding

    Managing and improving processes is the core of Six Sigma. And in order to truly understand a process, identify challenges and make improvements, the details of the process must be clarified. Often business leaders believe that they know how a process is performed, when in fact there can be a great deal of detail and variation that is not part of their awareness.

    Only by creating a detailed process map based on input from those who perform it, and reaching agreement that it does in fact reflect reality rather than expectation, can leaders and project managers gain a full understanding of an existing process.

    Instructing

    Beyond the role of process maps in garnering understanding of how a process is working, they have a key role in layout of the details of how a process should be performed. This is beneficial whether a new process is being introduced, an existing process is being modified (as in the Improve phase), or new employees are receiving training on conducting a process.

    Analyzing

    Often the mere act of creating a process map leads to increased awareness of inefficiencies and related problems. Simply talking through the various steps, decision points, and causes of variation among employees or situations can reveal issues that must be addressed in order to improve performance.

    Further analysis can reveal additional process challenges that must be overcome in order for performance to be improved. A standard activity flowchart will provide information about potential bottlenecks, delays, and other common sources of inefficiency and error. Specialized process maps can also be utilized to more readily display particular types of problems.

    An opportunity flowchart highlights non-value-added (NVA) steps, separating them from value-added (VA) steps. The proportion and type of NVA steps reveal important information about the improvements that should be considered. A deployment flowchart shows not only the steps in a process, but also explicitly illustrates who conducts each portion of a process. This type of chart thus reveals problems related to excessive back-and-forth in a process, communication issues, and so on.

    Once problems are identified, they can be prioritized and addressed through the DMAIC process or as quick-hit improvements.