To create sustained continuous improvements in organizational processes, an organization must first understand its processes. In a services environment, this can be difficult. A service by its very nature requires human interaction – people serving people. This means that a single organizational process may be perceived as diversely as the people performing it. And with merger and acquisition activity commonplace within many service sectors, processes and procedures may not be consistent or well-documented.

P Is the First Step in Creating SIPOC

Understanding an organizational process begins with creating a SIPOC diagram. A SIPOC (supplier, input, process, output, customer) diagram defines processes at a high level, showing the flow from supplier to customer – whether internal or external. It will provide the foundation for creating detailed process flows and cross-functional swim lane diagrams.

When creating a SIPOC diagram, a project team does not necessarily begin at the beginning. The team should more likely start in the middle and ask questions about the process itself (P). Next is documenting what is delivered to whom (O and C). Finally, the team can identify what input or information is needed to perform that process (I) and who provides that input (S).











How does the process start?How does the process end?

Who supplies
what’s needed
to do process?

What is the

What does it

What comes
out of the

What does the
customer get?

Play and Picture the Process

A process map takes the process description to a whole new level of understanding. Where verbal descriptions provide the basis of the process, the map identifies the flow of each event in a process. The team can then see whether there is a clear path for a process or whether obstacles exist in the form of rework, cloudy decision points, bottlenecks, etc.

One of the most interesting aspects of creating a process map in a merged organization is the possibility that the same process in the same department may be described in many different ways. This could be the result of merged organizations not merging processes, processing old information with new tools or processing new information with old tools. It may simply be the diversity of the employees performing the process.

A technique to employ while documenting the detailed process is to do a walk-through of the process, pretending to be the product or service. Involving the associates who perform the process provides an opportunity for them to work together to identify and provide input on what the current process steps are. It builds on the diversity of the group, and physically shows differences in the way the same process is performed by different people. From a documentation standpoint, this type of exercise can save time and ensure input from all associates.

Once the project team has played the process, creating the process map – or picturing the process – provides the visual documentation. The map combines into a single visible sequence all the information identified in the SIPOC and the steps or events acted out in the walk-through.

Prod the Process

Black Belt Michael Lee Smith suggested in an article on iSixSigma that these questions should be asked as a project team analyzes a process map: “Do we still do that?” or “Why does X happen there?” or “Why are we doing it that way?” Good suggestions all.

This kind of prodding of the process is simply looking at each process step, each decision point and each rework loop to see what can be streamlined, enhanced, eliminated or improved. The idea is to target improvements at steps, not at people.

Conclusion: Finding Process Strengths and Shortcomings

Understanding a process before attempting to improve it is critical in any improvement initiative. To do this in a service environment requires understanding perceptions of a process. This can be achieved easily and effectively through employing techniques like a process walk-through to ensure team understanding and inclusion in the documentation process. This builds consensus on current process strengths and shortcomings. This also creates team recognition of areas of improvement targeted to a process and not at people.

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