Operations Management For Dummies, 2nd Edition
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A well-defined process doesn’t have many special cases or deviations, so documenting or describing operations and business processes in a clear and practical way ensures that everyone involved — employees, managers, and stakeholders — can see how specific operations relate to others and what happens at each point in a process.

Clear documentation can also help with employee training and performance assessments, operational analysis, and other business functions. Operations managers usually use process maps (which are also called flow diagrams, flow maps, or flowcharts) to represent processes.

Here is a black-box process for converting inputs to outputs. The term black box refers to the inability to see the transformation that’s occurring within the process. The only things visible are what goes in and what comes out of the process.


Process maps often include these specific symbols for a very simple process:

  • Operations: Usually represented as rectangles in a diagram, operations are the steps, workstations, activities, or tasks performed to produce the output. Some operations managers — as well as different flowchart diagramming programs and standards — separate operations into categories such as transformation, inspection, documentation, and transportation. In that case, different symbols, such as the circle for inspection, may be incorporated.

  • Flows: Represented as the lines and arrows in a diagram, flows can either be goods or information. In a diagram illustrating the mortgage process, the flows may represent mortgage applications, e-mailed approvals, and so on. If more than one type of material or information is used in a process, operations managers generally use a different color or a dashed line to represent the different flows.

    Process flow diagrams generally run left to right, but they can sometimes run from top to bottom or even right to left. And flows don’t always face forward. For example, if material must return to a workstation for additional processing or rework because of a defect or other reason, the flows may point backward.

  • Delays: Some operations managers use upward-facing triangles to represent delays; others use down triangles. Triangles mean the same thing whether they point up or down. A delay can be any of the following types of inventory:

    • Raw material inventory (RMI): Inventory that has not yet entered the process. No value-added activities have been performed.

    • Work in progress (WIP): Inventory that the process has worked on but not completed.

    • Finished goods inventory (FGI): Inventory that the process has completed.

  • Resources: Labor and capital equipment such as computers are examples of resources. Here, the programmer needs a computer to perform Operation C.


Regardless of which symbols you use, being consistent across process maps is important to avoid confusion.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Mary Ann Anderson is a consultant in supply chain management and operations strategy. Edward Anderson is an associate professor of operations management at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business. Geoffrey Parker is a professor of management science at the A. B. Freeman School of Business at Tulane University.

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