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The Secret To SIPOC [3 Tips You'll LOVE]

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I’ve recently been working with a number of organisations to help them design some new ITIL®/IT Service Management processes and to improve others, and with one particular organisation, I'm helping them create ‘more Agile’ ITSM processes.

I should point out at this stage how important it is to have agreed, up-to-date and documented processes in place.

Otherwise, everyone has their own version of the process in their heads, and that's not necessarily the same process that’s in your head.

Each process should also have an 'owner' who basically 'owns' the process, hence the name 'Process Owner', and is responsible for initially designing it, improving it and making sure people actually follow it...

For some reason creating processes seems to be a real challenge for some people. In reality, we all follow processes on a daily basis.

Getting ready in the morning, making a cup of tea, and getting to work are all processes, and over time we become more efficient and effective at creating and following processes.

I should also point out that creating a process document, whether it be for Incident Management or Change Management, is not a 'one-off' activity. Processes need to be reviewed and improved on a regular basis... at least annually.

If I'm preaching to the converted, and you already know SIPOC, then skip to our 3 key SIPOC tips at the end of our blog.

And before we get stuck in, if you a new to ITIL4®, you might like to take a look at our ITIL4 Foundation course online here.

So, How Do We Start?

As I always say, we start by using SIPOC.

But what I have discovered over the years is that there are very few people ‘out there’ that understand this invaluable tool. So, what is SIPOC?

Well, let me explain.

What Is SIPOC?

SIPOC (pronounced sigh-pock) stand for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs and Customers.

It is simply a visual tool for documenting a process from beginning to end, whether that be a business process or an IT Service Management process.

SIPOC diagrams are sometimes also called high-level process maps because they do not contain much detail.

The tool can equally be used for the design of new processes or as part of process improvement as you are making the process visible… sometimes for the first time. It’s an excellent tool to use in a facilitated workshop environment.

SIPOC diagrams are also referred to as high-level process maps because they do not contain much detail. Can also be called PICOS or CIPOS diagrams, depending on where you start in the discovery stage.

SIPOC was in use at least as early as the late 1980s in total quality management programs (TQM) and is still used today in Six Sigma, LEAN manufacturing and business process management (BPM).

Its Use In Process Design

SIPOC can be used in initial process design to produce a high-level visualisation of an existing undocumented process or even for a new ‘required’ process.

The focus is on capturing the complete set of inputs and outputs rather than just focusing on the individual steps in the process, which can lead to some really inefficient processes.

E.g. if your process produces an 'output', but you can't find a 'customer' for the 'output'... is the 'output' really required?

It’s Also Used In Process Improvement

Starting with an existing process, a visual SIPOC approach allows stakeholders to visualise the process, the inputs and outputs and suppliers and customers.

SIPOC can be used in incremental process improvement using the Six Sigma methodology... in DMAIC, which refers to a data-driven quality strategy for improving processes. (DMAIC is an acronym for five interconnected phases: Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, and Control.)

The SIPOC diagram is often presented at the outset of process improvement efforts such as Kaizen events or during the "define" phase of the DMAIC process. It has three typical uses depending on the audience:

  • To help people in visualising and defining a new process.
  • To give people who are unfamiliar with a particular process a high-level overview.
  • To reacquaint people who have become out-of-date due to process changes.

Using SIPOC is a really useful tool in making processes more agile and leaner...

Getting Started

Firstly start with a big whiteboard or sheet of paper, create five columns and label each (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs and customers)

What Is A Supplier?

A supplier is anyone internal or external to the organisation that supplies input to a process.

What Is An Input?

An Input may be any resource, material, service or information supplied by a supplier.

What Is A Process?

A process consists of a set of activities which, if followed, will lead to input being converted to an output.

What Is An Output?

An output is something that is delivered to the customer as a result of following a process.

What Is A Customer?

Customers may be internal or external to the organisation who receive the output, product or service.

How Do You Populate This SIPOC Table?

Basically, you can start wherever you want, but I often find it easier by documenting the outputs first, then the customers and then working upstream to the inputs and supplier. It’s what I call my ‘bottom-up’ approach.

SIPOC diagrams are also very useful for focusing a discussion and helping team members agree upon a common language and understanding of a process for continuous improvement. In Six Sigma, SIPOC is often used during the “define” phase of the DMAIC improvement steps.

During a brainstorming workshop session, team members often want to start filling in the SIPOC diagram by starting with the centre column process.

The process column is kept simple; ideally, it lists no more than five to ten steps, and each step consists of an action and a subject (verb/noun).

Once the team agrees upon how the process has been documented, they move on to list the outcomes and customers of the process. Then they work backwards from the centre of the diagram to identify the input and suppliers.

Below is an example of how a continuous improvement team might use a SIPOC diagram for a simple ITSM process, such as Change Management.

The diagram can be created rather quickly by drawing a chart with five columns. Each column is labelled, from left to right, with the letters SIPOC or the words suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers and then populating it and highlighting areas for improvement.

Example of a SIPOC: Change Management – (example only)

Supplier

Input

Process

Output

Customer

  • Change Manager
  • IT Management
  • Customer
  • Service Portfolio Manager
  • Change initiator
  • Change Evaluation
  • Test Manager
  • Transition Manager
  • Service Asset & Configuration Manager
  • Service Level Manager
  • Problem Management
  • Policy and strategy for change and release
  • Request for change
  • Change proposal
  • Plans – change, transition, release, test, evaluation and remediation
  • Current change schedule and PSO
  • Evaluation reports and interim evaluation reports
  • Current assets or configuration items, e.g. baseline, service package, release package
  • As-planned configuration baseline
  • Test results, test report and evaluation report.
  • Create and record the RFC
  • Review the RFC
  • Asses & evaluate the Change
  • Authorise the Change
  • Communicate the decision
  • Plan Updates
  • Authorise Change deployment
  • Coordinate Change implementation
  • Review & Close Change
  • Rejected and cancelled RFCs
  • Authorized changes
  • Authorised change proposals
  • Change to the services, service or infrastructure resulting from authorised changes
  • New, changed or disposed configuration items, e.g. baseline, service package, release package
  • Revised change schedule
  • Revised PSO
  • Authorised change plans
  • Change decisions and actions
  • Change documents and records
  • Change management reports.
  • Change Manager
  • Business Customer
  • Release & Deployment Managers
  • CAB
  • IT Management
  • Customer

SIPOC diagram (suppliers, inputs, process, outputs, customers)

Our 3 Tips For A Successful SIPOC

  1. Creating a SIPOC is a team effort... Don't try to do this alone, as the likelihood is that you'll miss key information. Believe me, I've tried it.
  2. KISS – Keep it simple. Don't overcomplicate the activity. Remember, it’s meant to be a high-level information-gathering activity. You can expand the detail later.
  3. You don’t need a tool. A whiteboard or several sheets of flip-chart taped together will suffice.

So you now know what SIPOC is and what to do.

All you need now is the 'Best Practice' process knowledge from our ITIL® training courses to give you that added advantage in your IT work.

ITIL 4 Certifications

About The Author

Steve Lawless

Steve Lawless

I've worked in IT for over forty years and spent the last twenty in training and consultancy roles. Since starting Purple Griffon in 2002 I've taught over three thousand individuals in a variety of subjects. I hold qualifications in all four versions of ITIL®, ITAM, UX, BRM, SLM, SIAM, VeriSM, and AI, and co-authored the BCS AI Foundation book. Outside of work, I enjoy skiing (or rather falling over at high speed), reading, science and technology, and spending time with my loved ones.

Tel: +44 (0)1539 736 828

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