We all know that visuals like diagrams and flowcharts are the best way to simplify and communicate complex information like decision flows.
But what should you consider when mapping a business process?
What types of diagrams are best suited to what types of processes?
How do you design a process diagram that’s both easy to understand and engaging?
That’s what we’ll work through today.
In this guide, I’ll try to cut through some of the mumbo-jumbo around process diagramming techniques. We’ll hone in on the fundamentals of designing beautiful visuals that communicate your processes effectively.
We’ll cover (click to jump ahead):
- What is business process mapping?
- What are process diagrams for?
- Types of business processes (+ process diagram examples and templates)
- How to map a business process: process diagram symbols
- How to map a business process: best practices and design tips
- How to create a business process diagram with Venngage
What is business process mapping?
Business process mapping refers to the exercise of analyzing and documenting a process that is performed within your organization.
Mapping could focus on a high-level view of major moving parts, or describe the nitty-gritty details of a specific workflow.
The result of a process mapping activity is a process diagram.
A business process diagram uses visuals to represent a series of steps that are meaningful to your business, like this guide to assessing potential job candidates:
Business process diagrams are traditionally flowcharts, but the type of business process diagram you produce should be chosen based on:
- The information that you need to map (which might include the steps, people, systems, data, inputs, outputs, decisions, or actions that are involved in the process)
- The purpose of the diagram
- The audience you’re communicating with
Types of business process diagrams include:
- Flowcharts (variations include swimlane diagrams, SIPOC diagrams, and high-level flowcharts)
- Mind maps
- Process infographics
- Workflow diagrams
- Customer journey maps
- Use case diagrams
- and more…
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Why do businesses create process diagrams?
What are process diagrams for?
Businesses are built around people with different backgrounds, roles, and responsibilities working together on common processes. Process diagramming can really help in building shared understanding of these essential processes.
Process diagrams can help ensure a task is performed the same way over time and across a team. They can promote transparency and help to strengthen alignment across an organization.
Process diagrams can be high-level guides, like this marketing strategy mind map used to build alignment between a marketing team and a product team:
Or they can act as a step-by-step blueprint that helps an employee perform a specific task, like this guide to troubleshooting IT problems:
Process diagramming can play a role in optimizing and communicating about any internal process, especially for processes that are complex, that change often, or that involve a number of people. Some examples include:
- Aligning an organization on new strategic directions
- Training employees on complex processes to ensure compliance and accuracy
- Onboarding new employees
- Planning workflows for new projects
- Optimizing existing workflows and reducing redundancy
Process diagrams also have a place in improving external communication. They can be used to provide an overview of your services to potential clients, help guide customers through a complex system, and make technical information more accessible to non-technical audiences.
Simply put: businesses use process diagramming to maintain and improve the quality and efficiency of work–to analyze, optimize, and communicate about processes at work.
Types of business processes (+ process diagram examples and templates)
Let’s take a look at some types of business processes that should be considered for optimization and documentation.
Business processes are categorized into 3 types:
- Operational processes: these processes directly provide value to customers and are core to the business offering (examples: product development, procurement)
- Supporting processes: these processes don’t directly generate income, but support the operational processes (examples: hiring, payroll)
- Management processes: these processes are focused on monitoring and improving efficiency in the operational and supporting processes (examples: strategy planning, employee performance evaluation)
These processes can be further broken down by role. Here’s a quick list (read on for examples and templates):
- Human Resources: employee onboarding process, hiring process, employee disciplinary process, resume screening guidelines, interview process
- Finance: planning, budgeting, forecasting, reporting
- Management: strategic planning, performance evaluation, corporate governance
- Sales: sales prospecting, lead qualifying, lead nurturing, closing
- Customer Service & Support: customer self-service processes, troubleshooting, community management
- Production & Operations: acquisition and supply management
HR process management flow charts
Process documentation is integral to the HR profession. For responsibilities like compliance, hiring, and dismissals, it’s critical that processes are followed.
Process documentation can help HR professionals:
- Communicate company policies and process across the organization
- Onboard employees quickly and efficiently
- Ensure a fair and consistent hiring process
- Reinforce learning for employee training and skill development
A mind map like the one below, for example, can be an easy way to clarify and communicate company policies and processes across multiple departments.
Flow charts can also help during the hiring process to make sure hiring is fair and consistent. An HR professional might document separate processes for before, during, and after the candidate interview, or provide everything in a single summary, like this hiring process infographic:
Similarly, standardizing (and communicating) your performance review process will help set employee expectations, so there are no surprises when it comes time for annual reviews.
When onboarding new employees, having a set of documented processes to follow can help keep trainees on track and motivated when getting up to speed on organizational processes. Consider tracking the completion of each onboarding step with an onboarding process checklist:
Breaking down each major process that an employee needs to learn into concrete steps in summary infographics (like the one below) will also reduce strain on other staff, who will have more time to handle the things that require a hands-on approach.
These training documents can also be used as reference by existing employees who need to refresh their skills, too.
Healthcare process flow charts and patient journey maps
Just like human resources professionals, healthcare providers rely heavily on processes to keep organizations running smoothly.
Process diagramming can help healthcare professionals with:
- Patient communication: helping patients understand their options and make informed decisions
- Employee compliance: helping practitioners stick to best practices
- Quality improvement: analyzing the flow of people, services, and information through a healthcare centre
Flowcharts can be an easy, reliable way to allow patients to make informed decisions about their health, without requiring hands-on help.
In the healthcare flowchart below, readers are guided through possible outcomes and given instructions based on different results. A flowchart like this can help users quickly access the services they need.
Flowcharts and process infographics can be just as helpful for healthcare providers as they are for patients.
The process infographic from the American Tinnitus Association below, for example, outlines the intake steps required for patients with tinnitus.
This type of process infographic helps make sure patients get access to the services they need, without putting too much burden on the healthcare provider.
Patient journey mapping for quality improvement
Process mapping also plays a central role in many healthcare quality improvement initiatives, which involve analyzing and optimizing internal processes to raise the quality of care for patients.
Mapping out the flow of people, information, and services across the patient’s journey, for example, can highlight areas for improvement, as shown in the healthcare flowchart below.
It might expose that a check-in procedure takes too long, or that patient information needs to pass through multiple systems to get where it needs to go.
You can start building out your own patient journey map from a simple flow chart like the one below:
Management process flow examples
A big part of leadership and management involves overseeing and monitoring processes, and course-correcting employees who are out of alignment.
While a manager might present this kind of strategy in an all-hands meeting, handing over a process diagram or timeline like the one below (with more detail than can be covered in a brief meeting) can help keep employees on track long afterward.
Then, when it comes time to review company and employee performance, this process documentation makes it easy to compare the steps that were actually taken with those that were initially planned. If there are discrepancies, solutions can be worked into the strategy for the following year.
Management flow charts
A manager who is delegating some of the decision-making to their direct reports might worry about the quality of the decision-making declining.
Providing employees with decision tree diagrams can alleviate this worry while making employees feel confident in their work.
Flowcharts can also help managers plan out new processes before implementing them in their organization. Process mapping can help managers understand and prepare for the dependencies of such a change.
Start planning out your processes with a simple flow chart or decision tree diagram template like this one:
Workflow diagram example
Workflow diagrams, which are like flowcharts but show the actions of a single person, are perfect for mapping out user flows.
This workflow diagram, for example, shows the path of a customer processing a payment on a website.
Diagrams like this can help customer support teams understand how to assist customers who run into problems in the flow, helping to ensure that customers are having their issues resolved quickly and efficiently.
Workflow diagrams also help project managers keep track of project milestones and deliverables to make sure the project is delivered on time.
How to map a business process: process diagram symbols
There are a number of different notation standards that you could use which specify the meanings for symbols used to diagram processes, including:
- Unified Modeling Language (UML): a set of symbols used in software development to visualize the design of a system
- Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN): a set of symbols designed for visualizing business processes
- International Organization for Standardization (ISO) flowchart: a set of symbols for flowcharts, with conventions for specific types of flowcharts, including data, system, and program flowcharts
The problem with these systems is that they rely on your audience to understand these specific standards.
Since the goal of diagramming is usually to aid communication between groups of people with different knowledge bases, it’s often better to stick to just a few of the most common shapes that will be easy for most audiences to understand.
Here are the most common shapes used in the most common and useful type of process diagram, the flowchart:
- Rectangle (activity): used to represent a step, task, or activity performed by a person
- Diamond (decision): used to represent a decision point, where the flow will branch into two or more paths
- Arrow (flow): used to indicate the order of events
- Pill (start/end): used to represent a trigger that starts or ends a process
Let’s take a look at how you can use these four symbols to visualize complex processes for any audience.
How to map a business process: best practices and design tips
Gather information and choose a type of process diagram
Before you jump into designing the final document that you expect to present to your team, your client, or your customer, spend some time thinking about what you want to show, any why.
Consider what information you want to communicate:
- Do you want to specify the roles or personnel that are responsible for specific tasks?
- Do you want to provide a high-level overview of a process to serve as a jumping-off point for a new employee?
- Do you want to communicate how long each part of the process should take?
- Do you want to highlight critical points in the process, or what the inputs and outputs are?
- Do you want to help an employee complete a specific task?
A mind map, like the one below, might be best for communicating high-level strategy:
Timelines could show similar information, but would shift the focus to be on time spans or dates:
Flowcharts are the most flexible option, and often the most usable as they’re widely understood.
They’re the gold standard when it comes to communicating processes with multiple paths, and are easily customized to fit the level of detail you need for any process.
It’s easy to add additional layers of information like the people responsible for a given subset of tasks, or the time a set of tasks might take.
Use consistent styles, sizes, and shapes for a clean and professional look
Process diagrams can quickly get messy and hard to follow, especially those with many steps and decision points.
You can keep your diagram looking clean by:
- Keeping the shapes consistent in size and aligned with each other
- Using connectors that start and end at the same place on the shape for each step
- Using consistent spacing (unless you want to indicate groupings, like the example below)
- Arrange flows from decision points consistently (i.e. no on the left, yes on the right)
- Reducing the number of bends and corners in connector lines
If you follow these guidelines, even a complex process diagram can look professional and be easy to follow.
Use colors and icons to emphasize key information
One of the most important visual communication principles is to use color and visuals to serve a purpose, not just as decoration.
This is especially important for a process diagram that will be referenced regularly and needs to be understood at a glance.
Consider using contrasting colors like red and green or orange and blue to differentiate between positive and negative flows (and showing regular steps in a neutral color), as shown in the decision diagram below:
You can also add icons to clarify or draw attention to key steps, or to make the design more engaging, like in this process infographic example:
Use borders, shapes, and timelines to increase information density
A basic flowchart template can provide a great jumping-off point for your final design, but it might not include elements for everything that you need to communicate.
You can use elements like borders, shapes, and timelines to transform any basic flowchart into diagrams that visualize more complex information.
For example, by adding borders or backing shapes to a flowchart, you can create a swimlane diagram, like the example below, which clarifies the responsibilities of different groups within the same process.
Similarly, by adding something like a timeline (which you can pull from a timeline template) to a flowchart, you can increase the usefulness of your diagram, and save yourself the trouble of creating and sharing a separate document.
Include labels or a legend in your process diagram
If you’re using any symbols that aren’t standard or self-explanatory, don’t forget to add labels or include a legend for your readers.
While your readers can surely infer based on the content, your flowchart will be more usable (and quicker to grasp) if you are explicit whenever you can be.
That means labelling any flows out of decision points, if you have them, like the “high” and “low” labels in this flowchart:
Or adding a legend to clarify the meanings of any colors or shapes, like in this marketing process diagram:
How to create a business process diagram with Venngage
Venngage is an online visual communication tool that offers a huge variety of process diagramming templates. These aren’t just your average flowcharts.
To make a business process diagram in Venngage, start by creating a free Venngage account. This will give you access to our templates and our editor.
Browse our Templates page for a process diagramming template that meets your needs. We have thousands of templates to choose from, so start by checking out our top diagramming categories:
- Flowchart templates
- Mind map templates
- Process infographic templates
- Diagram templates
- Timeline templates
Find a template that matches up with the structure of your process and what you want to communicate.
Then, in the editor, swap in your text and add visuals to make key ideas pop.
Our icon replace function makes it easy to experiment with different images and icons. Click any icon in your design and click “Replace” to swap it out. You can search our library or professional icons by keyword to find icons that work for you.
You can also find shapes, lines, and borders under “Icons” in the left panel. Don’t forget to use these to add extra layers of information to your design, like using borders to indicate groupings, or using shapes and lines to add a timeline.
If you have brand guidelines to work within, use My Brand Kit to quickly apply your brand colors. Simply click to apply and shuffle until you’re happy with it! Remember, try to use brighter colors to draw attention to more important information.
Finally, share your diagram with your team! Venngage makes it simple to store and share your diagrams with the people that matter.
Once you’re done editing, copy the link to share it directly with a coworker or client. Upgrade to a Business account to download your flow chart or activate team features, like team sharing and collaboration.
Whether you’re facing issues with team alignment, want to improve workplace efficiency, or you’re prepping to bring on new employees, business process mapping can help.
Start building out your library of process documentation with process diagrams like flowcharts, mind maps, and process infographics that will help keep you and your team on the same page (no matter how big or small your business is).
With Venngage, getting started couldn’t be easier. Start improving your processes today!