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6Sigma Tools: Standard Symbols

published on July 30, 2012

6Sigma Tools: Process Mapping-Standard Symbols

As I said last week, process mapping is one of my favorite 6Sigma tools and the best thing about it is that anyone can do it. Now as with all things 6Sigma it can be as complicated or as easy as you want it to be. It may seem like process maps have a secret language, but this week’s blog helps you decipher the code.

What is it?

Rectangle illustrates an activity within the process. When activities are described in a rectangle they generally begin with a verb.



When you see a diamond, a decision has to be made. These decisions are generally yes/no or go/stop.



An arrow shows you which way the process is flowing and where it is connected.



A parallelogram shows that this step in the process is a data point.

An ellipse shows the start and ending of a process but some people like ovals or circles. I like circles myself, it really doesn’t matter but if you want to get technical ellipses are the Alpha and omegas of process maps.

Some people swear by MS Project or Visio, but the truth is that MS Excel or MS Word is just as effective for producing process map. The meat of this tool is that you illustrate the steps.  I’ve provided an example of one of the process maps I designed for a client, when you first start mapping a process it’s better to focus on something simpler. This process is just an example of what a finished process map looks like.


What should it include?

At a bare minimum it should show how and where the process starts, who/what influences it (inputs) and the end goal/product.   A more desirable map shows cycle times, value and non-value added tasks and activities, decision points, problems with immediate fix capabilities and process control needs.  But that is not a hard and fast rule; your client will dictate what the map needs to show. As you can see from my process, my client wanted a “no-fluff” chart, a map that only illustrated the tasks that actually took place.

Why use it?

Aside from the clarity that comes with visualization, process mapping is good for:

  • Training
  • Visualizing improvement points
  • Understanding root cause possibilities
  • Complementing analytical tools with the data it provides
  • Identifying what you will need to make improvements.

What doesn’t it do?

Every tool has its limitations and the process map does not give you a silver bullet. It cannot determine the level of variation, but it can determine if there is variation. It cannot stabilize your process but it can illustrate the best place to start looking for improvements. When you are ready to start giving your processes a deeper look, let SPC help get you started.

published on July 30, 2012


2 Responses to 6Sigma Tools: Standard Symbols

  1. Thanks for the run-down on the standard process mapping symbols; very useful.

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