Process Mapping –
The Forest, the Trees, and the Roots.
(Part 1 of 3)


>>> Learn about the Excellence Canada Certificate in Process Management


When I mention Process Mapping to my friends and colleagues they immediately plan their conversation exit strategy. Literally, people start looking at the clock and scoping out the closest exits. I explain how a Process Map is a chart that shows how work flows through the functions in an organization. By the time I get to the part about how a map uses specific symbols to capture and record each step required to convert inputs into outputs, I usually see them scurry away like mice being chased by a cat.

As many of you know, it doesn’t have to be that scary. Process Maps are very useful for improvement activities if they are used consistently and appropriately. At the most basic level, Process Maps are pictures of the way we work. Whether we work in the service/public sector or in manufacturing, Process Mapping is a requirement for continuous process/service improvement.

An approach to Process Mapping that is taught at various levels of detail in some of NQI’s training programs is the best way to simplify your thinking on Process Mapping. The approach breaks down Process Mapping into three levels of detail. A Level 1 map shows the process at its highest level with a focus on the “what”, a Level 2 map shows the process in more detail with a focus on the “who does what”, and a Level 3 map focuses on the transactional level with a focus on the “how”.

Over the next three Quest for Excellence e-newsletters, I will introduce one of the three levels of Process Mapping.

Part 1 – August Quest for Excellence newsletter: Level 1 Process Maps – The Forest

Part 2 - September Quest for Excellence newsletter: Level 2 Process Maps – The Trees

Part 3- October Quest for Excellence newsletter: Level 3 Process Maps – The Roots/Weeds

Part 1: The Forest – Level 1 Process Maps

So let’s start with a Level 1 Process Map which I refer to as the forest. A Level 1 map shows the process at its highest level. It is typically five to seven steps and is useful to get an understanding of the big picture. To see an entire forest you have to climb to the highest point available and look down. Think about times when you’ve seen a whole forest. It was likely from a plane at 30,000 feet or from the top of a mountain. You will have to do the same thing when you create a Level 1 Process Map. If you don’t get up high enough you will miss the forest because the trees are in the way.

Level 1 maps are used to tell the story of “what” is going on. They are very useful to give a high level understanding of your process to others. They show the basic steps required to convert an input into an output. When you are communicating a process to a large group of people who are not familiar (and won’t need to be familiar) with the heavy detail, a Level 1 map is a perfect tool. The following example shows a basic process for a typical “Fabric-Based Domestic Engineering Cleansing Process” better known as laundry.

Fabric-Based Domestic Engineering Cleansing Process

Notice the use of verb-noun combinations to describe the high-level value-added steps to convert the input (dirty clothes) into the output (clean clothes). We’ll save the “who” detail for the Level 2 map and the “how” detail for the Level 3 map.Level 1 Process Maps are meant to be understood by anyone at the organization without the need for training of any kind. Someone should be able to look at the map and understand what is taking place. It gives people a good understanding of where a process starts and finishes as well as a clear indication of the inputs and outputs.

Level 1 maps can be deceptively difficult because people generally want to get right into the detail of “how” something is done before they consider “what” they are doing. This is a trap that many rookie process mappers fall into. The time spent understanding “what” is going on will be invaluable when it is finally time to think about “how” you are doing it.

It’s your turn to try a Level 1 map. Choose a simple process that you are very familiar with. Use the boxes below to list the high level sequential steps required to convert the input to an output. Be careful not to delve into the “who” or “how” detail as we will save that for our Level 2 and 3 maps. You might want to try documenting the expense claim process, the hiring process, or the product/service development process for your organization.

What is Happening with Your Processes?

Template for a Level 1 Process Map

>>> Learn about the Excellence Canada Certificate in Process Management

Now that we’ve described the Forest, the next step is to look at the Trees. Stay tuned for a lesson and example of a Level 2 Process Map for the Fabric Based Domestic Engineering Cleansing Process in the next issue of the Quest for Excellence.


Author Information

Adam  Stoehr, PhD

Adam Stoehr, PhD