A PB&J Lover's Guide to Business Process Mapping

Written by Taylor Ruoff

W. Edwards Deming once said, “If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.”

Tough but fair.

One technique that can help you better visualize your processes is to map them. The workflows you’ll create through process mapping should clearly illustrate the relationships between each step with the goal of producing an end-product or service. So, how do you accomplish top-notch business process mapping? Here are our 4 tips:

1. Know Where You’re Going

Before stepping up to the drawing board, define the scope of the process you want to map. Without clear boundaries, how will you know exactly what you’re mapping – or where your process starts and ends? It’s essential to understand the big picture before diving into the details. When identifying scope, it’s helpful to start at the end. Simply ask yourself what the final output (project, service, whatever) of the process you’re mapping is. When you’ve got that settled, work backwards to identify the action that would kick off the process.

Here’s an example: let’s say you’re desperate for a PB&J but don’t know the process for making one. The scope may seem obvious here, but when you think about it, there are a number of possible end goals that would be applicable. The end could be to finish making the sandwich, finish eating the sandwich, or even wash the dishes. Find the end that’s relevant to your process and nail down that scope. For our example, we’ll end with consuming the PB&J, because no one likes doing dishes. From that end point we can work back to determine what would trigger the process. Here, it makes sense to say that would be craving a PB&J. This trigger is called the initial input.
ITIL Business Process Mapping 1

The scope of your process will also effect how you map it. We recommend that you:

2. Make It Short & Simple

While there are many reasons you may want to map a process, the main objective of business process mapping is to create a standardized visual representation of the process – one that is easy to read and understand. The workflow should clearly show the relationships between each step on the way to producing an end product or service.

We suggest sticking to one page, which typically translates to about 5 – 7 steps or “boxes” – each box representing a clearly defined activity. An easy way to keep your steps simple is to follow the Noun-Verb rule: each box should contain only one noun (representing an input or output) and one verb (representing an activity). It’s that simple.


If you find yourself going past one page, your scope is likely too large or complicated, though that’s not to say complex processes can’t or shouldn’t be mapped. It simply means it’s time to introduce sub-processes. Believe it or not, making a PB&J can be a complex enough process to require sub-processes, so we’ll stick with that example.

What do you do after identifying a craving for PB&J? You gather the ingredients you’ll need to make it.

While this step seems intuitive enough, it’s possible to be break it down further. “Gather ingredients” can easily drill down to: walk to fridge, grab jar of jelly, walk to cupboard, grab jar of peanut butter, etc. Therefore, we would make “gather ingredients” a sub-process, as this step is actually a process in itself. Utilizing sub-processes is a simple way to keep a clear focus on the big picture of your process. They allow you to map complex processes without losing clarity and simplicity.

ITIL Business Process Mapping 2




ITIL Business Process Mapping 3

Now that we’ve got a handle on the basics of defining the scope and mapping each step of the process and any sub-processes, it’s time to worry about who is responsible for performing each of the steps. Even for the simplest of processes, we highly advise that you:

3. Assign Ownership & Accountability

Let’s complicate our scenario a bit. What if you weren’t making the PB&J for yourself, but for a customer at the sandwich shop where you work? When a process involves more than one person or team, it is important to note who is accountable for each step in the process. Without ownership, the chances an activity gets completed are slim to none. We suggest using “swim lanes” to visualize ownership and accountability. A swim lane is used to divide up a process’s steps between individuals or groups. It is best to attribute each step to a role or function rather than an individual. This ensures the process will be repeatable and won’t need updating with every staff change (because everyone knows Jessica has been stealing garden salsa Sun Chips from the back for months – so no way she’s around much longer).

Think about the different roles involved in our new scenario. Thus far, we have have the customer and you. The customer’s role in the process is to order and eat the sandwich, and your role is to take the order, submit it to the kitchen, and collect payment. So, who is responsible for actually making and delivering the sandwich in this process? Looks like we’ll need to introduce a new role, which we will call the Sandwich Maker. Note that we have attributed the steps in this process to roles rather than specific individuals. At this sandwich shop, employees take shifts working the register and in the kitchen, so while your role today may be cashier, tomorrow it could be Sandwich Maker. Our process is now repeatable and not dependent on specific individuals (Jessica…)

ITIL Business Process Mapping 4

Have a look at our final process workflow above. Did you notice it starts with input from the customer and ends with output for the customer? That is not a coincidence. When business process mapping, we suggest that you:

4. Keep the Customer in Mind

Your business process maps should be customer-centric. Why? Because business process maps are designed to show the relationship between steps and inputs to produce an end-product or service. ITIL defines a service as a means of providing value to customers by facilitating outcomes customers want to achieve without the ownership of specific costs and risks, so providing value to the customer – internal or external – should be the focus of any process you map. We, as the business, take on the ownership of specific costs and risks of the business process. Mapping out your business processes will help you deliver outcomes to your customers as efficiently and easily as possible – and they will love you for it.

Happy mapping!


Need help assigning ownership to your newly mapped process?
Download our RACI Model template and put that stress to bed.

Need to assign ownership to your newly mapped process?

Download our RACI Model template and knock it out in no time.
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Originally published November 11 2017, updated January 01 2019