There are many process mapping tools available and SIPOC is one of them that delivery leaders can use for their Agile initiatives. SIPOC traditionally has been used in Lean Six Sigma process improvement projects.
“But Lean Six Sigma isn’t Agile!”, You may exclaim.
Let’s not get into the debate of what is and what isn’t. As good Agile delivery leaders we want to have more than one tool in our toolbox and this might be one of those tools. For example, finding a right starting point for a new initiative can be hard for many delivery leaders and we could use SIPOC for that purpose. You can also use it early in the project to create alignment among your team and stakeholders.
Another important thing to remember is that we can learn tremendously from other disciplines. If you haven’t yet, then I strongly recommend that you read “Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World“. The author, “David Epstein shows that the way to excel is by sampling widely, gaining a breadth of experiences, taking detours, experimenting relentlessly, juggling many interests – in other words, by developing range”. (Excerpt in italics taken from the book introduction on Amazon.com).
By learning tools and techniques outside from our own craft, and sometimes outside from our profession, we learn more about ourselves.
Table of Contents:
What is SIPOC:
Sipoc is a process mapping and definition tool. The letters stand for: Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers. These are the heuristics that guide us for defining a process at the commencement of a project or an initiative. You can also use it for process improvement activities (continuous improvement must be an ongoing goal for you).
SIPOC is like a customer journey map because both define a process while keeping the customer in mind. SIPOC compels you to think through the whole journey of a product or a process, beginning from a supplier to the customer. Without thinking in terms of suppliers, their inputs to a process, the steps of your process, the outputs that your customers may get, you might miss important details.
A key difference between SIPOC and Journey mapping is that a journey map focuses entirely on a customer’s experience, while a SIPOC focuses on an end to end process. This may also appear like a drawback of SIPOC that it talks about the customer last.
Another concept that is quite close to SIPOC is Value Stream Mapping (VSM). Since VSM is a Lean concept, it is used more often by Agile teams than other concepts. However, as I previously suggested, there is nothing wrong in having another tool in your toolbox.
Why use it?
Like any other mapping tool, the strength of SIPOC lies in its visualisation and simplicity. If a process is written in a thick, multi-page document, the chances are no one would read that and the creator will not receive any feedback. Since SIPOC can be created on an online tool like Whiteboardfox, or in-person using an A3 page or using sticky notes, it is far easier to get feedback.
Another reason for starting with a SIPOC instead of jumping straight into a process mapping exercise is that it enables teams to think beyond the process. When you use it, you have very little chance of missing on high-level process steps and the scope inclusions and exclusions.
Moreover, SIPOC provides a structured and simple way to convey and brainstorm a process.
Who should be involved in the process?
Ideally, the team members that will support your initiative and work on it should be involved in the process mapping exercise. Any stakeholders that have interest in your initiative should also participate in this process. That is, you should ensure that the process does not miss inputs from key people.
How to create a SIPOC diagram?
SIPOC is an easy to use tool. It is often presented in a tabular or diagrammatic form. Your starting point is to draw five items which are Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers.
Supplier: Make a list of everyone or everything that might provide an input in your process.
A supplier can be those people or groups that provide inputs into the process. For example, a supplier can be a stakeholder or a sponsor of an initiative. A supplier can also be an upstream system or a process and a customer might be a downstream process or system. Think from provider- receiver or cause-effect point of view.
Process: Begin with a starting point of a process. Your process might depend on the inputs provided by the suppliers. Once you have a starting point, describe the key steps till the end. With having clear starting and end points, it would be easier for you to complete the full chart.
Output: An output is what we produce or deliver as information, service or a product that our customer uses.
Customer: People / groups that receive and use the output of the process. A customer benefits from the process.
Benefits of using SIPOC:
A SIPOC diagram is easier to create. It allows collaboration between various groups and helps us create a shared-understanding. Since many people provide their inputs, they also feel ownership. Of the initiative.
Some of the other benefits of SIPOC are:
– it provides a high level overview of the process
– it helps us define the stakeholders (suppliers and customers)
– it define and clarifies the scope and boundaries of a process, and most importantly
– it helps a team to understand how their process serve the customer
So, you now have another tool in your toolbox. Let me know if you find a use of this tool.
For familiarising youtrself on such topics, Wikipedia is always a good starting point. But don’t stop there. Continue exploring more if you find a topic useful.