Process Mapping, Lean thinking and Six Sigma

Process mapping has been a core part of both Lean and Six Sigma for decades. It is hugely valuable, particularly when groups of people get to engage in hands-on post-it notes on walls type visualizations (see Tom Wujec's TED talk). The founders behind Elements have been involved in many of these sessions with companies from most industries. They are very valuable, and very powerful.

Elements provides an approach and the software application to leverage Lean and Six-Sigma techniques and tools. The additional value is that Catalyst enables the capture of the information in live workshops, directly into the application. By all means, use the tried and trusted techniques to get people hands-on with post-it notes and whiteboards – but make sure the results are captured and available as and when appropriate to all of the process stakeholders.

Elements allows you to get the information online, to collaborate around it and organize the content hierarchically so it can be interacted with in digestible chunks on screens – wherever the people reading those screens may happen to be. We’re not saying it’s not valuable to print out the lowest levels of detail and put them on a wall to walk through the process with groups of people. If you have the opportunity to do that – great. But what happens to that information then?

We have worked in a past company using this approach with the likes of Toyota Lean Operations, which led to projects in some of the largest organizations supporting their Lean activities using the hierarchical breakdown of detail and the simple UPN modeling notation that we support.

If you have questions about the use of Elements in support of Lean or Six Sigma, talk to us at or look at the Partner Directory at, some of whom have extensive experience in these areas.

In terms of Lean thinking, Womack and Jones’ five principles are:

  • specify what creates value from the customers perspective

  • identify all steps across the whole value stream

  • make those actions that create value flow

  • only make what is pulled by the customer just-in-time

  • strive for perfection by continually removing successive layers of waste

These grew out of the original Lean Manufacturing movement and the Toyota Way.

Six Sigma seeks to improve the quality of the output of a process by identifying and removing the causes of defects and minimizing variability in manufacturing and business processes. It uses quality and mainly empirical, statistical methods, and creates a special infrastructure of people within the organization, who are experts in these methods. See Wikipedia

Over the years, Lean and Six Sigma approaches have naturally found common ground (and been applied by a lot of the same people). So, in a nutshell, here are the key principles of "Lean Six Sigma Business Transformation" as a more general business focused articulation: (ref dummies)

  • focus on the customer

  • identify and understand how the work gets done (the value stream)

  • manage, improve, and smooth the process flow

  • remove non-value-adding steps and waste

  • manage by fact and reduce variation

  • involve and equip the people in the process

  • undertake improvement activity in a systematic way

Whichever flavour you are applying, using Elements Process knowledge allows you get everyone across an organization to understand and apply these kind of principles in the context of Process Knowledge they can access, engage with, and influence. It is totally complementary to Lean thinking. Using data tables and resources, you can even support a remarkable amount of the more analytical and technical work in a very engaging and visible way.

Lean and Six Sigma are chock full of great tools, approaches and disciplines to make the right changes happen to achieve your desired outcomes. Elements can only help.

Process Mapping could be seen as a way to move through the following three steps in any business change – whether or not it has a "Lean" or "Six Sigma" approach associated with it:

  • What you think happens in your organisation? (Your starting point)

  • What’s actually happening? (With evidence and data points – your mapped out "As-Is")

  • What should be happening to achieve your desired outcomes? (Your agreed "To-Be" operational Process Knowledge)

So why doesn’t everyone get these benefits?

The biggest challenge we have seen over the decades is not the technical analysis or simulation of process ideas. It’s how to get the organization to engage with and adopt new behaviours, technologies, and skills. Having an agreed picture of the collective Process Knowledge to collaborate on, work with and focus feedback through makes a huge difference.

If you’ve been involved with Lean and Six Sigma for any length of time, you have done plenty of Process Mapping. Where is all of that knowledge now? What happened to it? The process that’s now in a cupboard on rolls of brown paper. Maybe it’s stored as files of the swim-lane based or technical statistical analysis flowcharts on a hard drive somewhere, or ‘dumbed down’ simplified into some high level flows for the slide deck to present back to management and train people. Maybe your Quality Management people have copied and pasted the flowcharts into procedures and work instructions.

Where has all that brilliant context and visualisation gone? Far too often, dispersed, fragmented. Lost.

The main challenge has been (like process mapping for automation or process mapping for process simulation) that the audience has tended to be Lean and Six Sigma professionals "extracting the As-Is knowledge" from people to visualise, conduct experiments, statistical analysis, and design a "To-Be" process that gets implemented and documented in whatever way the organization tends to document how things work. Usually just that, a set of text-based documents.

But don’t I need technical Flowcharts and tools for Six Sigma?

There is no doubt that the "Six Sigma style" of process mapping tends to focus on supporting more technical/mathematical maps, so green and blackbelts can perform simulations and statistical analyses on different key areas of process.

Elements Process Knowledge can still capture lots of evidence and data-based information in a Data Table that you can report on. That said, there will be areas where you really need to do process simulation and analysis. You can use one of the industry best of breed tools, conduct your experiments, and then link the resulting insights and documentation to the visualisation in Elements that everyone can engage with on an ongoing basis.

There are many people across the growing Elements Ecosystem who have experience and skills in the Lean Sigma space. If you have questions or observations, feel free to engage with the Q&A forum about how Elements can support your requirements or specific aspects of Lean and Six Sigma approaches, or email us at

Did this answer your question?