Flowcharting the SIPOC Way
If you are preparing for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam, you may have stumbled upon the SIPOC model as you tried to understand the Plan Quality Management process in section 8.1. of the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). SIPOC stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, Customers and is used in the PMBOK® Guide to place flowcharts in context – i.e.: “Flowcharts show the activities, decision points, branching loops, parallel paths, and the overall order of processing by mapping the operational details of procedures that exist within a horizontal value chain” (p.284).
A SIPOC model is a tabular, high-level representation of a process. If the Project Manager is tasked with developing a new process, s/he will organize a brainstorming session, where all the stakeholders of that process are represented. This is an iterative process and it is recommended that the team considers the process from the customer’s perspective. To use Six Sigma terminology, they listen to the Voice of the Customer (VoC). In order to emphasize that the customer is the start point for these deliberations, some people have renamed SIPOC to COPIS (Customers, Outputs, Processes, Inputs and Suppliers).
If the process already exists, but a SIPOC model has never been created, the Project Manager’s focus should be on creating a process map or process flowchart first. Once this is in place, the outputs and customers are identified and then the inputs and their suppliers.
In both these cases, an iterative process is followed. If the process map is refined, or another customer requirement is identified, then that may suggest additions or alterations to other columns in the table. Identifying elements in each row is difficult. For instance, suppliers can be internal (other departments) or external (third-party vendors) and, interestingly, suppliers can also be customers! Take the situation where the research group produces a CAD design of a part and asks the machine room to create the part on its milling machine. Here the research group supplies the CAD design and also becomes the customer for the part.
Similarly, inputs come in a variety of forms – material, information or even other services. Basically they represent whatever is needed by the process to create the outputs. However, inputs also include more abstract concepts like environment – for instance, our barbecue project requires good weather, or our silicon chip facility requires a dust-free environment.
The process itself can be described textually using a series of <verb><object> statements. For instance:
- Load CAD design onto milling machine
- Place appropriately sized blank in machine
- Execute design
- Present result to customer
- Clean swarf from machine
Alternately, a swim-lane-style process map can be devised. If all the suppliers and customers are assigned their own swim-lanes, the process can be shown moving between these different actors. This technique may identify more suppliers and customers. It is useful to use the SIPOC table to inform the process-map and visa versa.
The SIPOC table should be considered as five separate columns – i.e. an entry in row “n” of the Input column does not necessarily contribute to the entry in row “n” of the Output column. Think of the table more as: “these are the suppliers to the process; these are the inputs to the process, etc”. As an example, this might be the SIPOC model for a car dealer:
For a Project Manager struggling to assimilate everything encountered in a PMP® preparation class, encountering terms like SIPOC can be somewhat disorienting. SIPOC is a Six Sigma concept and is used in the “Define” step of the DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control) process. It is unlikely that a specific SIPOC question will appear in the PMP® exam, but it is possible that SIPOC might be one of the alternative answers to a question. Just be aware of what the acronym stands for and that it is related to flowcharts.
Of course, if process analysis is part of your project management brief, then this tool may prove useful to you in practice.
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