Before you can improve a business process or run a business process analysis, you need to understand it. And often the best way to understand a process is to draw it out. That’s where SIPOC diagrams come in. While business processes can be complex, SIPOC diagrams are a simple way to visualize how each piece of the process fits together.
A SIPOC diagram provides a high-level view of a process by documenting its suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, and customers. It visualizes how everyone in the process receives materials or data from each other, and is often used to improve or understand processes that impact customer experience.
SIPOC diagrams aren’t meant to provide too much detail—rather, they give stakeholders a high-level process map to help them make decisions and brainstorm improvement ideas. In that way, SIPOC diagrams are just one tool for business process management (BPM). BPM is a tool for the continuous improvement of business processes. It involves investigating processes, planning how to improve them, and implementing those improvements with strategic initiatives.
The acronym SIPOC stands for these five components:
Suppliers: The input sources for the process
Inputs: The resources you need for the process to function
Process: The high-level steps of the process
Outputs: The results of the process
Customers: The people who receive outputs or benefit from the process
Workflow diagrams provide a graphic map of a business process or project. A SIPOC diagram is a type of workflow diagram that focuses on who creates and receives materials or data throughout a business process.
Some workflow diagrams are organized with each process step mapped out chronologically. However, a SIPOC diagram doesn’t map out dependencies (i.e. tasks that need to be completed before others). Instead, it visualizes who creates process materials, how those materials feed into the process, and who receives process outputs.
SIPOC diagrams are often used in lean project management as part of the Six Sigma process improvement methodology. Six Sigma aims to minimize defects and inconsistencies in an end product—for that reason, it works well to improve manufacturing or any process associated with customer experience. A core component of lean Six Sigma is the DMAIC process, which stands for define, measure, analyze, improve, and control. A SIPOC diagram comes into play during the “define” phase of the DMAIC process.
Since a SIPOC diagram gives a high-level overview without specific details, it’s useful for audiences who are unfamiliar with the business process. In that way, it’s a great way to introduce new employees to a process or communicate about those key process details that have a direct impact.
SIPOC diagrams are simple to create, so you can draw one up as the starting point for your process improvement brainstorm to frame your problem-solving discussion and ensure everyone is on the same page.
When you create a SIPOC diagram with your team, you’re prompted to identify key information like supplier contacts, project specifications, and target customers. In that way, the act of creating a SIPOC diagram helps you understand processes, then improve them.
Creating a SIPOC diagram with your team can help answer the following questions:
How can we make this process easier?
Are we delivering a quality product to our customers?
Can we improve the way we manage our suppliers?
Are our suppliers delivering what we need?
Do we know the personas of our customers and what demographics they fall into?
Are there any inefficiencies we can improve when creating our product?
Remember that a SIPOC diagram is just one tool in your process management toolbox. As you investigate and improve business processes, you’ll need to build a more robust system to stay organized. Before you dive into process improvement, choose a project management tool that lets you assign clear owners and deadlines, view dependencies, and communicate with your team in one central location. With Asana, you can even build a SIPOC diagram as a Kanban board—then share and update your diagram in real time.Create a process map template
Using the SIPOC model is simple, but it’s actually best practice not to follow the acronym in order. We recommend starting with the “process” section as that’s often the easiest place to begin, but you can also work backwards from “customers” to “suppliers.” For that reason, teams sometimes call this tool a COPIS diagram instead.
Here’s how to create a SIPOC diagram:
Select the process you want to visualize with your SIPOC diagram. This can be a new business process you want to implement or an existing process you want to optimize. Creating a SIPOC diagram can help you understand the process, brainstorm ideas for improvement, and provide a high-level overview of the process to help stakeholders make decisions.
For example, imagine you want to improve shipping and delivery of your product. A SIPOC diagram can help you identify inefficiencies, ensure you’re managing suppliers in the best possible way, and determine whether you’re delivering a quality product to customers.
Instead of completing your SIPOC diagram in order, it’s often easiest to start with the “P” section and define your process first. Break the process down into 4-5 high-level steps, each with its own action and subject. If you want, you can organize these steps as a flow chart, with each one feeding into the other.
To continue our product shipping example, the process can be broken down into the following steps:
Customer checks out
Invoice sent to warehouse
Warehouse team prepares shipment
Distribution company picks up shipment
Distribution company carries shipment to destination
If your process is long and contains many different steps, try to group batches of smaller steps together. For example, you could use the broader step “Invoice sent to warehouse” to stand in for all the details of how information is transferred from your ecommerce platform to the shipping warehouse. Remember that the purpose of a SIPOC diagram is to provide a high-level overview, not a detailed view.Read: What is a flowchart? (Symbols, types, and how to read it)
Identify the outputs of the process. This helps you understand what you get from the resources you invest in the process, and what customers are actually receiving. Outputs can be things like materials, products, services, or information—essentially anything you, internal team members, or customers get out of the process. Ideally, outcomes should correspond with customer requirements.
In the product shipping SIPOC example above, the outcomes are:
Customers get the product within a certain time frame
Your company receives money for the product
Customers are the people who receive the outputs or benefit from the process. Keep in mind that customers don’t have to be external—they can also include co-workers and internal stakeholders. Let's use a different example instead of the shipping scenario. Say you're preparing your company's annual retreat. In this scenario, your customers and stakeholders would be the team members attending the event.
For the shipping example, you could list the following customers: online shoppers (who receive the product), and your company (which receives money for the product).
Inputs are the resources you need for the process to function properly. Similar to outputs, these can be things like materials, products, services, or information. Listing the suppliers of the inputs helps you understand resource requirements for the process and determine whether you’re getting the materials you need from your suppliers.
For your product shipping process, this could include customer shipping and payment information, online payment services, packaging services, packaging materials, warehouse space, and delivery trucks.
Suppliers are where you get each of the inputs of the process. This step helps you understand how many suppliers you’re working with and whether you’re managing them in the most efficient way.
In our product shipping example, that could include the following:
Customers: Provide shipping and payment information
Warehouse team members: Offer packaging services
Packaging manufacturer: Create packaging materials
Warehouse leasing company: Provide warehouse space
Delivery services: Provide delivery trucks
A SIPOC diagram is meant to be shared. It’s most valuable as a tool to help you, your team, and stakeholders understand how a business process works. That means to get the full benefit of your SIPOC map, you should not only share it, but also make sure it’s easily accessible.
One of the best ways to share information is with a project management tool, because it lets you organize project information and tasks in one central place. That means instead of sending a dozen separate emails, you can share a single version of your diagram with each stakeholder—then communicate with everyone on one thread.
SIPOC diagrams are a useful template to keep in your process improvement toolbox. They’re simple to make, easy to share, and provide key information to help decision-makers understand business processes at a high level. Plus, creating a SIPOC diagram with your team can help you clarify how each piece of the process fits together, and how you can streamline things to make your business processes the best they can be.Create a process map template