What is a Six Sigma Process Map?

Six Sigma process maps are visual representations of processes or sets of processes used in the methodology. Six Sigma is a data-driven approach to quality improvement designed to eliminate defects and minimize process variability; with this tool, you can map out steps in circles to identify areas for improvement. It gives an intuitive work flow chart and helps identify bottlenecks, waste areas, and other improvement opportunities. When combined with different Six Sigma tools like statistical analysis and process control, process maps can yield significant improvements in quality, efficiency, and customer satisfaction levels.

A Six Sigma Process Map: What is it for?

Working with Lean Six Sigma project teams that include six, ten, or fifteen people is common. Each team member will likely have their own unique ideas about how a process works and what needs improvement. A process map helps to build a shared understanding of the process and its intended outcomes. This exercise has the following key benefits:

  • Recognize the steps that are complex and should be simplified.
  • Visually compare the current process with the new one
  • This makes it easier for people outside of the project team to understand the process

In any environment in which Six Sigma methodologies can apply, such as hospitals, manufacturing plants, restaurants, bars, and hotels. Six Sigma process maps are also helpful in improving outcomes. They can be used at the start of a project or during an ongoing process.

Example of a Six Sigma Process Map

Here’s an example of a simple Six Sigma process map:

Let’s say you are mapping the process of ordering and delivering a product to a customer. The process map could look something like this:

  1. Customer places order through website
  2. Order is received and processed by sales department
  3. Order is reviewed and approved by quality control department
  4. Order is sent to warehouse for packing and shipment
  5. Shipping label is created and product is shipped to customer
  6. Customer receives product and provides feedback

This simple process map outlines the steps in delivering a product to a customer and provides a visual representation of the flow of work. By mapping out the process, you can identify areas for improvement, such as reducing the time it takes to approve the order or improving the speed of the shipping process. This information can be used to identify opportunities for streamlining the process, reducing waste, and improving quality.

Benefits of Using a Six Sigma Process Map

Utilizing a Six Sigma process map in your quality improvement initiatives has several advantages:

Enhancing Process Understanding: A process map makes the workflow more transparent, creating a shared understanding among stakeholders of the process. This can result in improved communication and collaboration as everyone works from one shared understanding.

Identifying Areas for Improvement: A process map makes it simpler to spot potential improvements by highlighting bottlenecks, waste accumulation and other inefficiencies within the procedure.

Improving Process Efficiency: By pinpointing areas for improvement, a Six Sigma process map can help eliminate waste, reduce cycle time, and boost efficiency in an existing process.

Reducing Variability: Six Sigma process maps can assist in identifying sources of variability in a process, leading to improved consistency and reduced defects.

Improving Customer Satisfaction: A process map can assist in identifying opportunities to enhance the customer experience, such as decreasing delivery time or improving product quality.

Supporting Data-Driven Decisions: Six Sigma process maps can be utilized in combination with other Six Sigma tools, such as statistical analysis, to help guide data-driven decisions and promote continuous improvement.

Overall, a Six Sigma process map can give you a visual representation of your process, help identify improvement areas, and support data-driven decision making in quality improvement initiatives.

Create a Six Sigma Process Map

The process map should look like a flowchart that shows the beginning, middle, and end of the process. A map can be a simple overview or more detailed with sub-steps for each element. The complexity of your project will determine the type of process map that you choose, but each map should be completed in these steps:

  1. Define the process boundaries
    What is the beginning and end of the process? As an example, let’s say you want to reduce wait times in an emergency room. The patient could arrive at the emergency room and complete their paperwork. When they are discharged, that would be the beginning.
  2. List all steps of the process
    The steps in our example would be to greet the patient, fill out the intake forms and then have the information entered into the computer system. Finally, the patient would see the triage nurse. Each step has inputs and outputs. These are the items or data that were received and what should result.
  3. Follow these steps
    You could arrange the steps according to how they work in the current process to make it easier for you to find areas that need improvement.
  4. Use the right symbols
    Six Sigma process maps use the same set symbols. Each symbol represents an action or point. These symbols should be drawn around the steps of the Six Sigma process to ensure that everyone understands their meaning. These are the most commonly used symbols and their meanings:
    • Terminator – Both the beginning and the end of the process
    • Rectangle – A step or task that must take place as part of the process
    • Oval – The inputs or outputs of a particular step or entire process (commonly found at both the beginning and the end of the process).
    • D Symbols indicating delays in the process
    • Arrow – Movement in the process–an indication where the process flows step by step
    • Diamond – This is the point in the process when a decision needs to be made
  5. Check your work
    Review the map to ensure that every step is correctly described and listed. To ensure that nothing is missed, have someone from outside the project team (but still involved in the process) review the map.
What are process maps in six sigma?
What are process maps in six sigma?

Making the Most of the Six Sigma Process Map

Now it is time to improve the process. Each team member should examine each step and ask questions to find ways to improve it. Is there a larger problem? Are there steps that are too complicated or unnecessary? What would an ideal process look like?

A process map helps the project team to visualize all these questions. This allows them to reduce waste and improve their process, which is at the heart of the Lean Six Sigma methodology.

Have you ever used a Six Sigma Process Map for any of your projects?

Tell us all about it in the comments below.