What Are Process Maps?
A process map is a tool that can be used to visually describe the flow of work within an office by outlining the individual steps within a process, the task owners and even the timelines. These maps are sometimes referred to as flowcharts or diagrams, and they really break down the who, what, when, where and how of your processes to better answer the why. Process maps can be used to gain a better understanding of your current processes and improve efficiency by identifying bottlenecks or duplication within your workflow and working to streamline the process. They can help to identify key areas that may be ideal for implementing automation. They also ensure that your team is on the same page and can be used to improve performance and productivity.
Just as with any other diagram, process maps use a series of defined symbols such as ovals, rectangles, diamonds and arrows to depict steps within an activity and how those steps flow to meet an end product or goal. There are common symbols used to depict process flows, including items such as actions, decisions and delays. There are also symbols used to depict inputs and outputs, such as documents and data. The goal is to produce a visual that is understandable by everyone on your team, and tools like Lucidchart can help you easily create your maps, even if you are not a professional designer.
Lucidchart is a cloud-based diagramming application that can be used to create your process maps, in addition to several other types of charts and diagrams. The platform can be used on nearly all devices, browsers and operating systems, making it easily accessible for the user and for those with whom you may be collaborating. There is also an offline mode to work on your maps even when you are not connected to the internet. When I first tested Lucidchart, I found the product easy to navigate since it felt familiar—reminding me of Google Docs—which made it easy to jump right in to creating a process map for my own office. If you are new to creating process maps, however, I recommend taking the time to do a quick internet search to learn what each symbol represents and how to use them effectively. If I didn’t know what I was looking for when mapping, then figuring out how to build my map may have seemed daunting without much explanation.
The drag-and-drop feature makes it easy to place the shapes you need on what Lucidchart calls your canvas, which is essentially a grid document. There is a toolbar that runs across the top that features the ability to adjust your shapes, fonts or lines, including the color, size, style and weight. I also appreciated the ability to easily adjust the direction of my flow line by simply moving the symbol to which I had it connected.
In addition to building a process map from scratch, there are also templates that you can use. These templates include not only process maps, but also other diagramming tools such as mind maps and organizational charts. As a result, there may be other ways in which you can use the product for your practice.
Lastly, Lucidchart offers features that support real-time collaboration and can also integrate with some of your other applications, including Slack, Notion, and Microsoft and Google products. When sharing your diagrams, you can set permissions and share with members across your team by link or email invitation. Your collaborators will need to set up an account to have access, but then you can collaborate as a team in real time, making it easy to work on process maps even in a remote setting. The collaboration tools you have access to, however, will be dependent upon your subscription plan.
Lucidchart has both free and paid subscription plans. The free account limits the user, however, to three editable documents at a time and 60 shapes per document. It also limits access to 100 templates. The paid plans, on the other hand, give you the ability to create unlimited editable documents at any time, with an unlimited number of shapes and objects per document. You also get complete access to the premium shapes and templates libraries. An individual plan will run you $7.95 per month, while a team plan costs $9 per month, per user.
The team plan does give you more features for collaboration beyond the basic sharing and editing features of the free and individual plans, such as the ability to add comments and to view the revision history. The free and individual plans both have access to sticky notes, though, which can be used in place of comments as long as you don’t have very many. The paid plans also have the ability to import data from other file types to create your diagram. There are specific file types that Lucidchart suggests should be used to import your data, depending on the type of diagram you are creating and the template you are using.
Despite the limitations, the free account gives you plenty of features to try the product before committing to a paid plan. The free plan may also be sufficient for those who only have one or two key areas that they are interested in mapping out at a time, especially if you are not needing to import data that you want to edit, since this feature only comes with the paid plans. ARE
There are several tools that can be used to create a process map. Early in the process, something as simple as using self-stick easel pads, markers and sticky notes can be helpful, especially when you have everyone who is instrumental in the process together in a room, all working to map the process. In addition to Lucidchart, there are other diagramming-specific tools that can be used, including products such as Microsoft Visio, Creately and Edraw. You could also use other drawing and design tools such as Google Drawings or Canva, if you are skilled enough in using these products. The same goes for using PowerPoint drawing tools as an alternative. Microsoft Excel also has some basic capabilities to create process maps without investing in Visio. But if you are looking for a tool that is quick and easy to use right out of the box and you have interest in mapping several of your processes, then investing in a diagramming tool may be the way to go.