What is process mapping? 5 types of process maps defined

It may surprise you to know you’ve probably used some variation of this tool already, but what is a process map? How does it work? We’ll explain all of that, go over types of process maps and provide a process mapping guide to help you maximize your use of this easy but brilliant tool.

Think of a process map as a business-related, fancier version of a checklist. Whether it’s a list of things you need to see or do today or a set of instructions for someone to complete, we look for patterns, repeating items, shortcuts and so on. We’re always looking for ways to shave off time or make the list more efficient and the way it’s done in business is called process mapping.

What is process mapping? Our process map definition

The definition of process mapping is that it’s a technique for creating a visual representation of workflows, steps and tasks which makes it easier for your team to understand a procedure and minimize the need for extra explanation. To that end, using process mapping methodology saves time while improving clarity.

Process mapping goes by many names and can be done in different ways but all have the same goal — clearly visualize a process. We’ve used process maps since the early 1920s but as we mentioned, it’s an overall process improvement method we’ve performed mentally for ages. Deployment of the tool on paper only allowed for further explanation and more detailed information.

Some of those alternate names include:

  • Process flow chart
  • Process flow diagram
  • Workflow diagram
  • Process diagram
  • Process analysis

A detailed process map can help spot key issues in real-time with very little effort. These diagrams use a specific set of process map symbols to make them simple to read and use by anyone throughout the whole process.

They’re designed to quickly identify who is responsible for what and avoid any overlap or confusion between steps in the task or process. In other words, they’re easy-to-understand work instructions for everyone involved.

If you’re looking for process mapping software, look no further than Slickplan’s Diagram Maker which can help you with process maps and many more of your site planning needs. Additionally, we have a process mapping template to help get you started if you should need one.

What are the 3 levels of process mapping?

Generally speaking, there are three levels of a process map.

  • Level 1 consists of "what" process needs to be outlined
  • Level 2 goes further into detail and explains "who" does the "what" from Level 1
  • Level 3 is transactional and has a focus on "how" the "what" gets done by "who"

Now, we totally get it — this may start to sound a little scary but if you get stuck we have a great way to help with articles that explain how to create a process map step by step. Once you understand the process flowchart rules, it gets easier and easier to put them together, and team members of all levels can read and use them.

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How many types of process maps are there?

Process maps come in a variety of flavors and the solid ones end up making a list numbering in the 10-15 range. We’ve chosen to highlight the top five here.

What are the different types of process mapping techniques?

When choosing the right process mapping technique, learning what options are available is step 1. In this section, we’ll have a bit of show and tell on the top five process maps to streamline the process and get you familiar with the tool.


A basic process map is the simplest form of the tool and the most common of maps. It makes use of the inputs and outputs of any subject to display how the process works.

Although the bare-bones quality of this map may seem like a drawback, the beauty here is that it gets straight to the point. These information flows can be further augmented by the people using them allowing for a high level of accuracy to improve the process and deliver better results much faster.

The one constraint to bear in mind is that this map should be pretty space efficient, so as it grows, it may begin turning into a detailed map (found below).

Sometimes the most basic things can reveal the most obvious answers and simplify any process.

Basic example

Basic Process Map Example


As the name suggests, the detailed map takes a deeper dive into whatever data the subject provides. Sometimes a basic process model is the answer but sometimes it just isn’t that simple and requires a bit more discussion. The devil is in the details as they say.

This option is best used when basic map functionality has been exhausted and additional information is critical to quality and required at the decision points. Further documentation from the people involved here can be anything from stakeholders to department heads as well as owners and even co-workers who will be doing the work.

Detailed example

Detailed Process Map Example


Also known as cross-functional process maps, this technique identifies the correct order of an entire process and gathers necessary information that allows for continuous improvement over the current state.

Swimlane maps can help reduce the sequence of steps needed from different roles and even spot problems in specific areas or redundancies.

A swimlane is a good business process to implement when there seems to be a lot of overlap in responsibilities or failures at different steps of the process and even of specific people in the chain of command.

Swimlane example

In the example image below, the Sales department appears twice which may be indicative of duplicate tasks in the process.

Swim lane Process Map Example


The name for this map comes from an acronym made up of the steps involved in the process: supplies (or suppliers), inputs, processes, outputs and customers and this process map shows the relationship between all of them.

This one actually works well as a precursor for a detailed process map and during the "measure" process step of the DMAIC style map (mentioned below).

SIPOC example

SIPOC Process Map Example


This map, another acronym, gets its name from the words define, measure, analyze, improve and control. DMAIC maps are a fundamental part of the Six Sigma process map method but can also be used as a standalone tool and as part of planning a Lean implementation.

DMAIC example

DMAIC Process Map Example

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All organizations and their different departments will find that with a bit of common sense, knowing the necessary steps of the decision-making process for your company can help determine the most valuable map for your project needs.

Making all kinds of process maps is a breeze with Slickplan’s Diagram Maker. Take it for a free 14-day test drive (with no credit card required) and try out all the tools you need to map out any process quickly and easily. Come find out why Slickplan is the #1 rated online diagram maker in the UX industry.

Sean LeSuer

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