SIPOC is one of the least used and least understood tools in the box. A rudimentary understanding of it can make you look like an expert.
SIPOC stands for Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs and Customers. It looks a little something like this…
Pretty simple, right? The more complex versions are followed by a basic process map. Let’s break it down and see the how and why of using it.
Why am I doing this?
SIPOC is a great tool for the times you are called in to help someone else fix a problem. If you have no background with the process, this is where you start. It’s also a good place to start when the process owners can’t verbalize exactly what they do or how they do it. The components are pretty straightforward.
Suppliers: Upstream. Who do you get things from?
Inputs: What do you need to get the work done?
Process: What is it, would you say, that you do here?
Outputs: What has to happen for you to be “done”?
Customers: Downstream. Who cares about this process working correctly?
How detailed does it have to be?
Not detailed at all. The SIPOC is a starting point, not a “fix-it” tool. Here’s an example of one for talent acquisition:
The nice thing about starting with the SIPOC is that is will prompt discussing with the team around who and what are really involved. For instance, in the above example, we have only three customers listed. They all make sense, and they are the people that we often think of as customers of talent acquisition. And we are likely to build our process to serve them.
As a facilitator, though, your role is to challenge that assumption. So you might ask “What about the candidates? Are they customers, too?” Of course they are. But if they aren’t listed, you won’t be designing the process for them. And if the process owners don’t realize it, you need to help them figure it out.
Is that it?
Almost. We also like to have a high level process map, just to get an idea of what gets done. This is not a detailed Visio map. It is a very simple version. For example:
Easy, right? But this is the starting point for deep dives. Remember, this tool is most useful in a situation where you come in with little to no knowledge of the process. You will eventually want to do a more detailed process review, but this will get you started.
OK, so I made a SIPOC. Now what?
Once you have a basic understanding of the process and the elements, you can start working on the issues. But don’t toss the SIPOC aside. I find them to be most useful stuck on the wall where they are always visible. If nothing else, you will want to keep that customer list in front of you as work to improve and redesign a process. That list will help you remember who you are working for, and will often help in decision making when you reach a tough question.