In a previous blog, I talked about the principles of Lean Six Sigma and how at its core, the goal is to remove waste from a process. You can’t remove waste if you don’t know your process and while writing down your process is a great first step, visual documentation allows you to see how a process should work…and it can also show you how it doesn’t work. This leads to process improvement.
There are two great tools that are used in Lean Six Sigma that when used properly, allow you to quickly document a process so you can visually see how it functions.
A SIPOC model is a tool used to identify all elements of a process before creating a more detailed Process Map or Swim Lane Diagram. It helps define a complex project and creates a starting point for process improvement and transformation by providing a simple and high-level view of the process including all of the details.
So what does SIPOC stand for?
Suppliers – These are the departments or people who are part of the process. They will be responsible for contributing to completing it.
Inputs – What’s needed to complete the process? Tools, software, proposals, are some of the items that are needed to complete the process. You should list them all here.
Process – These are the sequential steps that are required to complete the process in question. How detailed you get depends on the goal that you want to achieve. Be careful not to get too detailed otherwise you will get paralysis by analysis.
Outputs – These are the defined standards of completion. When the process is done, what should we have and how should it be completed?
Customer – This is an internal or external customer who is receiving the output. If the process continues into another department, this customer is handing-off the process to someone else.
By building a SIPOC Model, you can take something like “Building a Proposal” and use the SIPOC to take apart the process and clearly see who’s involved, what’s needed, what the steps are, what defines completion and then the next steps. It’s much easier to use this methodology than sitting down and trying to think about what happens. This is a more structured approach.
Process Map or Swim Lane Diagram
Now that you have your SIPOC Model, you can construct your Process Map which is a planning and management tool that visually communicates the flow of work that can help align teams to streamline work, improve communication between departments/employees and analyze areas for improvement. The map defines what the business entity does, who is responsible and to what standard a process should be completed.
The name “Swim Lane Diagram” comes from a pool with different swim lanes. The swim lane keeps the swimmer in position. These lanes on a process map represent a person or department. Only the things that they are responsible for should end up here.
Putting it all together
- Use the suppliers to layout your swim lanes
- Add the process steps into the appropriate swim lanes as identified in the SIPOC Model
- Inputs/Outputs are the details that are added to the process steps that define what is needed to complete each step (software, documents, etc.)
- Customers help define how the different steps transition from one swim lane to another.
By using these tools, you can quickly take what was an organic process stuck in everyone’s head and get it out onto paper into an organized fashion. While going through this process, you can quickly determine areas where bottlenecks are created and develop a solution.
Using these tools and this methodology, getting a “rough draft” of a Process Map should take less than an hour. You can use different color sticky notes which allows you to reposition things and make improvements in real time and then when you are done, take a picture and draw it up in software such as; Vizio, draw.io, or lucid chart.