The name “SIPOC” is an acronym for Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers and it is a tool most of us with any process improvement experience or education have learned to use. It can be used very efficiently and effectively for other dilemmas as well and it doesn’t require us to summon a team and declare an event to use the logic to help us answer important questions.
In particular, I find the SIPOC is very useful for settling arguments about roles and responsibility and identifying gaps in expectations that lead to other arguments. What’s more, it can be a ten-minute exercise; it doesn’t need to be an hour-long ordeal.
Let’s understand the tool briefly in its usual context. I’ll take the opportunity to share some quick tips to get the most out of it for less work. Then I’ll explain how it can also be one of those ubiquitous tools that you find yourself doing in your head to solve an everyday problem.
The SIPOC tool, like many others, has evolved many forms, and the guidelines vary, but the most common version is simply a diagram of five columns organized with each of the acronym words for headings. The designed purpose of the tool is to clearly identify, and achieve consensus about, the critical expectations of a process step and who is setting those expectations and who is responsible for meeting them. It’s one of my favorites because it quickly and effectively organizes and communicates vital information to address or solve a problem.
To construct the diagram properly, we must build it from the middle out. I have seen several resources declare that it must be built right-to-left, but in my experience, we can’t really do that unless we already know the answers. If your resources tell you to build it from left-to-right, throw it in the wastebasket. Start in the middle by filling in the Process column.
In the Process column, or box as many diagrams use, insert a single entry which is the name of the process step under scrutiny. Here is an important piece of advice. Write it in the form of a verb-noun phrase. Don’t write, “Work Order Process.” That noun-only definition could be a single process step or dozens. It lack boundaries, and it misses a huge opportunity to get some real benefit out of the tool, as we will see.
For our example, which we will construct for the discussion, we will fill in the Process box or column with, “Issue Work Order.” The verb-noun statement defines a specific task and, therefore, describes a meaningful context for the team using the tool. There is more it enables, which we will see.