Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, and Customers—Oh My!

Close to about three years ago, I was part of a Training and Development team. We were tasked with creating a flowchart of our overall business processes and product production for an upcoming CMMI audit. At the time, I was new to the team, so the effort behind constructing it didn’t fall to me. From what I gathered though, many hours and tears were spent putting it together.

Fortunately, I was invited to sit in on the audit process while my teammates were interrogated over each and every step of our process. Behind us, taped to the wall, were these giant plotter-printed posters packed with boxes upon boxes of processes, documents, and the people associated with them. I was quite impressed with how, when the auditor asked about our quality control of instructional materials, one of my teammates hopped up from the conference table and pointed directly to one of the process boxes and said, “this is where the Lead Developer, with confirmation from the Director, submits the document to the QC team, who, in turn evaluates the materials based on the QC guidelines…”

Maybe I’m a big-time flowchart and process geek, but I couldn’t help approaching the wall posters and just staring in awe after the interview was over and the dust settled. I felt like I was part of a team that had its act together, or, at least if we didn’t, had the tools to diagnose what was preventing greater success and work towards remedying the situation.

Upon closer inspection and further investigation, I was intrigued to find the method used to construct our process flowcharts was called SIPOC.  SIPOC stands for “Suppliers, Inputs, Processes, Outputs, and Customers.” Using it to expand a task assignment beyond “the act itself,” we can begin asking fundamental questions such as: “What information or materials does the assigned person or people need to perform this? Who supplies the information or materials? What reports, analysis, and/or physical materials are created from this activity? Who evaluates the outcome? What next steps does this facilitate? Who is waiting impatiently for ‘that guy’ to get his work done?”

From the grand scope of any pursuit to the minor steps, the concept and application of SIPOC sounded quite familiar. As project managers, we are well-versed in customers, requirements, scope, decomposing, logical dependencies, assignments, etc. While we can identify these qualities in any activity, it is typically the project manager’s craft to predict the most sustainable course of action, pursue it, and stay the course to achieve all requirements. However, if we were to observe most day-to-day processes and routines in a similar light, we would find, amongst their seemingly countless iterations, a patchwork of “baked-in” contingencies and a plethora of “this is the way I like to do it” exceptions. It may “get the job done,” but is it the best we can do?

In my upcoming three-part course series, SIPOC Workshop Facilitation, I want us to explore the significance behind the concept of SIPOC. Beyond the theory, we’ll discuss how to apply it through holding SIPOC workshops—team collaborations help influence improvement. Additionally, we will address techniques for pushback and how the workshop itself is more than just backwards engineering a better path; it may just lead to strengthening the team. Watch part 1 on-demand: SIPOC Workshop Facilitation – Part 1: Overview of SIPOC and Systems.


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Written by Jeff Bongiovani
Jeff Bongiovani is currently the Lead Course Developer for Edwards Performance Solutions who oversees the production and maintenance of courses on Project Management, Systems Engineering, Software Development, Business Process Improvement, and Cybersecurity. He is also a trainer with over 20,000 hours of classroom experience spanning 17 years.
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