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What is business process mapping? Definitions and steps

Just like navigators use maps to get through vast seas, businesses can use process maps as a key step in process analysis to navigate complex processes and relationships.

Businesses map processes to gain a better understanding of their operations. Mapping processes helps businesses visualize the flow of work, identify bottlenecks, and identify opportunities for improvement. Process mapping can also help businesses identify risks and compliance issues, optimize resources and workflows, and improve customer experience Additionally, business process mapping can be used to develop process improvement initiatives and identify potential areas for intelligent automation.

What exactly is process mapping?

Business process mapping is a technique used to visually display how work is done in workflow steps from start to finish. A process map can also be called by different names, such as a flowchart, functional process chart, or workflow diagram.

Process mapping helps organizations understand and improve their work processes by displaying a visual representation of their workflow. By mapping out processes, teams easily communicate priority issues and identify where time and resources are wasted.

With a detailed process map, teams must identify and understand individual steps, devise precise timelines, and identify task owners. Business process mapping brings lots of helpful insights but is just one step in the overall goal of a business process analysis. 

Process mapping steps

1. Process identification

During the business process identification phase, organizations define their business process. It's about identifying company objectives, players, and work areas. 

2. Information gathering

As the name suggests, information gathering is about gaining relevant business process information from the people who do the work. It's about answering the how, what, and why to develop an accurate and informed process map. 

3. Process mapping

After getting the correct information from the right people, it's time to start business process mapping. Process mapping can be done simply on paper, as part of a presentation, or with dedicated business process mapping software.

4. Analysis 

The analysis phase is about working through the map to identify opportunities for improvement. Good questions to ask in analysis: can steps be eliminated? Can tasks be completed more efficiently? Are there potential bottlenecks slowing down the throughput time? 

5. Develop new methods of work 

Once you have worked out the areas for improvement in work processes, it's time to eliminate unnecessary actions and manual work, rearrange or automate business process steps, and develop more effective workflows.

6. Process management

This final phase is about maintaining effective processes with regular reviews and progress monitoring. The most effective process map is one that is kept fresh and used actively.  

The biggest benefits of process mapping

1. Sharing visual information, data, and ideas

Process mapping allows teams to communicate complex information more effectively. By creating visual representations of processes, it becomes easier to convey information, share ideas, and discuss potential improvements. Visual maps enable stakeholders to grasp the workflow steps and understand the relationships between different tasks, fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing.

2. Providing digestible information for effective problem-solving 

Complex processes can often be overwhelming, making it challenging to identify bottlenecks or areas for improvement. Business process mapping breaks down these intricate workflows into easily understandable symbols and steps. This simplification helps stakeholders gain a clear understanding of the process, enabling them to identify inefficiencies and propose solutions more efficiently. 

3. Breaking complex processes down into universally understood symbols

Process mapping utilizes universally recognized symbols and notations, making it easier for individuals across different departments and teams to comprehend the workflow. Regardless of their expertise or background, employees can understand the process represented on the map, facilitating cross-functional collaboration and fostering a shared understanding of the organization's operations.

4. Providing a visual representation of the process from start to finish

One of the primary advantages of business process mapping is its ability to provide a comprehensive visual representation of a process, from its initiation to its completion. This end-to-end overview helps stakeholders identify dependencies, redundancies, and potential areas for optimization. It also enables them to track the progress of tasks, ensuring accountability and timely completion.

5. Building alignment and prioritization between various individuals and teams

Business process mapping brings individuals and teams together by providing a shared understanding of the organization's objectives and processes. By visualizing the workflow, stakeholders can align their efforts, identify interdependencies, and prioritize tasks accordingly. This alignment enhances collaboration, minimizes misunderstandings, and improves overall efficiency.

Invoice payment process flowchart

Who maps the processes?

In most companies, the job of mapping processes is usually given to the Business Analyst or Process Improvement teams. These teams have the knowledge and expertise needed to understand the complexities of different business processes and turn them into visual representations.

The Business Analysts work closely with stakeholders from different departments, having discussions, conducting interviews, and gathering data to fully grasp the existing processes. Using this information, they can create business process maps that accurately show the steps, dependencies, and interactions involved in each process.

Process mapping is a collaborative effort that involves the participation of individuals who have a deep understanding of the processes being mapped. This ensures that the process maps truly reflect how work is being carried out in the organization. While Business Analysts or Process Improvement teams usually take the lead, the involvement and input of stakeholders from various departments are crucial to ensure the business process maps are both accurate and relevant. 

Process Mapping vs. Process Modeling

Process mapping is a valuable technique used to gain a comprehensive understanding of established processes within an organization. It involves creating visual diagrams that depict each activity, providing a clear and tangible representation of the overall business process landscape. This approach allows teams to identify the current state of processes, highlighting their sequence and dependencies.

On the other hand, process modeling takes a broader perspective by focusing on the desired state of processes within the entire organization. It enables teams to envision and design an optimized workflow that supports the lifecycle of processes and fosters continuous improvement. Business process modeling goes beyond simply mapping out the existing processes; it aims to create an ideal representation of how processes should be, considering factors such as efficiency, effectiveness, and resource allocation.

In simple terms, business process mapping provides a visual snapshot of the current state of business processes, while process modeling delves into the realm of optimization and simulation. Process mapping and business process modeling are complementary techniques. The former provides a foundation for understanding existing processes, while the latter enables organizations to optimize and simulate improved workflows. Both methods go under the larger Business Process Management effort.

6 typical process map types 

  1. Flowcharts

Start with the basics. Flowcharts are easy-to-follow visual maps that almost everyone can understand. Flowcharts provide basic process details such as inputs and outputs. 

  1. Deployment maps

Deployment maps (or cross-functional flowcharts) are ideal for finding those pesky bottlenecks. Deployment maps display relationships between different teams and use swimlane diagrams to illustrate how a process flows through your organization. 

  1. Detailed process maps

As the name suggests, detailed process maps show a deeper version of a process and contain information about sub-processes. 

  1. High-level process maps

High-level process maps are all about seeing the bigger picture. Otherwise known as value-chain or top-down maps, high-level process maps include the key process elements such as a supplier, process, output, input, or customer.   

  1. Rendered process maps

Rendered process maps show current and/ or future state processes. This information highlights areas for improvement. 

  1. Value stream maps

The final step is documenting the steps needed to develop products and services for an end user.

Process mapping symbols and their meanings 

Process symbols are a representation of individual elements in a process map. Otherwise known as flowchart symbols, flowchart shapes, or flow diagram symbols, process symbols have specific meanings. Like the musical notes printed on piano sheet music, process symbols are universal and have specific meanings.

Common process mapping symbols

5 popular process mapping tools

There are many business process mapping tools to choose from, but five of the most popular tools are: 

Microsoft Visio 

Now part of the Microsoft Office pack, Visio is a diagramming and vector graphics application initially released in 1992. Microsoft Visio is widely used to create flowcharts and process maps.


A popular web-based diagramming application for visual collaboration and drawing. Users can revise and share charts and diagrams to improve processes, systems, and organizational structures. 


This freeware design tool can integrate with Google Documents and other online based tools providing flexible diagram visualization options. While it does not offer as advanced collaboration functionality it’s ease of use and no cost make it a popular choice for beginners.


Users diagram via an HTML5 cloud-based app and can create UML diagrams, floor plans, Venn diagrams, flowcharts, and more. Users can share and edit diagrams in real-time.


Launched in 2009, the web-based software is for designing and drawing diagrams. The tool creates flowcharts, wireframes, organizational charts, and more. 


Teams use this collaborative web-based diagramming tool to work on flowcharts, mind maps, and many other business visuals.  

Bottom line

Process mapping helps companies become more efficient with clear insights and defined goals to save time, money, and staffing. But business process mapping was often a time-consuming and complex endeavor. Thankfully, things have changed.

With Workfellow, you can automatically track processes without the hassle of slow, manual work. What's more, you'll get real-time actionable insights from day one thanks to AI-powered process intelligence software. 

So steer your company in the right direction today by booking a meeting, and make business process mapping a breeze.

Written by

Josef Konderla

Content Marketing Manager

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