As a project management leader, you understand the need for clear and detailed plans to ensure the success of your project. One tool that can help you achieve this goal is SIPOC. This acronym stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers.
SIPOC is a process mapping and continuous improvement tool that provides leaders with a comprehensive framework for documenting the key components of an upcoming project. In this blog post, we’ll explore why every project manager needs to use SIPOC and how it can help you accomplish your goals.
SIPOCs provide a clear picture of any given process.
We teach our students and clients how to use this tool and it is an important part of our Lean Six Sigma and Advanced Project Management Curriculums. As both leaders and consultants, the SIPOC tool is an excellent starting point for any project and improvement project planning activity. It helps project managers document the entire process flow from beginning to end. It is also a great tool to establish the relationship(s) between process inputs and outputs/outcomes.
We interpret inputs and outputs as the starting and finishing points of the process. Knowing what the inputs and outputs consist of, understanding their processing methods, and identifying who bears the accountability for each in-between activity is vital. This knowledge provides us with a comprehensive view of the overall process.
Consequently, having a clear picture allows you to identify and address potential bottlenecks and areas of improvement for your process(es). Identifying and developing a game plan to address bottlenecks and areas of improvement will ultimately save you and your organization time and money.
Helps with Alignment
SIPOC is an excellent tool for aligning stakeholders, from internal team members to external suppliers. As a leader, project manager, or continuous improvement head, you know that this is vital to successful process improvement and implementation.
Mapping a workflow in a table format provides a visual representation that all parties can understand. In an ideal world, stakeholders can be part of the mapping process. Including them in the development of the diagram will make them more likely to collaborate and understand why, where, and how any given process needs to be improved.
In addition to getting stakeholder buy-in, involving experienced members of your organization and leaders from other areas who are affected by this process is key to creating a more inclusive work environment. In return, you will potentially identify blind spots and avoid groupthink.
This alignment and team collaboration usually results in shorter project life cycles, saves time and resources, addresses potential risks, and ultimately leads to higher profitability. Who does not want this for their organization?
Facilitates Continuous Improvement
The SIPOC tool is cross-functional. It involves different departments and stakeholders in the project. Its cross-functional nature makes it ideal to identify improvement opportunities. These opportunities are addressed through continuous improvement initiatives.
Breaking down the process into smaller steps makes it easier to identify additional areas that need improvement. This information can then be used to drive important changes. This “chunk-sized” strategy increases efficiency and ultimately leads to more substantial improvements across the organization.
In addition, by breaking down each process into a more concise and straightforward overview, businesses can brainstorm ways to reduce waste and increase production.
If you or your organization are looking for a way to understand their process at a high level in order to make effective decisions, SIPOC is the right tool for you. The amount of detail generated through a SIPOC is enough to kick off any project.
Gaining stakeholders’ support is critical to the success of any project. SIPOC enables powerful communication that helps project managers articulate the process in a way that everyone can understand and recognize.
The tool’s visual process diagram provides a straightforward way to present the plan clearly, which is essential in making for a successful project. This is a great tool to align people and processes.
One key trait of successful managers and leaders is their ability to manage change. Leading an inclusive mapping process is a step in the right direction. This approach gives leaders the opportunity to communicate the challenges being addressed and the expected outcomes.
Together with the diagram and definition process, you will want to develop a change management strategy that includes a well-defined communication plan that goes beyond leadership.
Your communication plan should consider all the people, processes, and systems affected by your work.
Reduces Rework and Costs
Effective project management is all about efficiency, and the SIPOC tool helps improve it in several ways. Breaking down the process and identifying improvement opportunities, helps teams deliver projects on time and within budget.
This efficiency leads to a reduction in costs, rework, and corrective actions while mitigating risk(s). Better yet, you will spend less time on non-value-added tasks.
How to do a SIPOC Diagram
With SIPOC, the team can visualize the current process and better understand its steps and orders.
To develop a SIPOC diagram, draw a chart with 5 columns. Each column will provide the space for one of the components and its representative initial used to develop the acronym.
Consider the following example: Your company commercializes produce and wants to improve its vegetable packaging process.
The first step component we will define is Process. Use the third column in your diagram to map the process.
Start by outlining the 5 main activities required to deliver your good or service. After identifying them, define and document who will be the owner of each activity.
The owner of each activity is the person in your process who will be responsible for making sure that any specific activity happens on time and meets the defined quality standards.
These are the five main activities (processes) of the packaging process.
- Select the vegetable mix.
- Weight the vegetables
- Pack the vegetable mix.
- Plastic wrap the produce.
- Label the packaged good(s)/product.
After outlining your process, proceed to the first column in your diagram. Label this column with an “S” for Supplier(s).
Start this section by listing who is/are the Suppliers for your project. Suppliers are individuals or businesses that can provide the right inputs to execute a process function. They can be either internal or external to the organization.
In the given scenario, our supplier is the individual or business providing vegetables.
Secondly, you need to identify the information, materials, and/or services necessary to execute the Process. We will classify these as Inputs.
The client company in this case needs broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. They also need plastic wraps, plastic trays, and sticky labels with product pricing.
Next, compile a list of Outputs or results that will result from carrying out the primary activities.
Your process will result in an assortment of previously defined vegetables placed on a plastic tray and covered with plastic wrap. Your team then marks the finalized packaging with a label. This label will typically include a description, pricing, and a barcode.
Finally, you need to define the target customer in your scope of work. The target customer could be an internal or external client, or interested team members such as stakeholders and sponsors who are invested in the project’s outcome.
Our product will be sold to Grocery Stores. The vegetables will then be bought and consumed by end-users. For your company, however, the customer is the Grocery store because that is the last person in your packaging and commercialization process.
Specific industries and consultants will sometimes choose a different approach to this process. Some will start with the “S” as the first step in their process. Others run the process backward.
Some leaders, businesses, and consultants use the term COPIS. This is useful when you want to focus on customer priorities and requirements before jump-starting a project.
Bring in subject matter experts and consultants to enhance your efforts.
Consultants can be a great asset for your project management and improvement efforts. Their specialized knowledge and impartial viewpoints reduce bias. Moreover, their ability to ask critical questions can uncover new opportunities and challenge assumptions and groupthink.
A great consultant brings invaluable experience from various industries and clients including benchmarks and best practices. It is important to hire individuals or firms with expertise in your processes or industry.
In addition to their experience, consultants should create a psychological safe environment where diversity of thought and individual contributions, thoughts, and questions are welcome.
You will know your session was successful when your team, stakeholders, and participants leave the room feeling:
- Different perspectives were heard, discussed and analyzed
- There was a thorough conversation about risks and risk mitigation
- Satisfied with the areas of improvement that were identified
- They have a clear path forward on how to proceed with the project
In our experience as consultants, this effort can last from a few hours to an entire day.
Regulated or biochemical processes will typically take longer than traditional manufacturing or service processes. Make sure to include team members who will add value to the conversation. At the same time, we suggest you run a tight session with no more than 7 people.
In summary, the SIPOC tool is an essential element in project management and process improvement efforts. From providing a clear picture of the process to reducing costs and facilitating continuous improvements, this tool helps project managers achieve their goals. Using this tool will you deliver projects on time, within budget, and with stakeholder support. Whether you are a project manager, continuous improvement leader, general manager, or consultant, this is a must-have tool in your toolkit.
What others tools and methodologies are in your process improvement and project management toolkit?