How to use SIPOC for better results

A SIPOC helps to identify all the elements involved in a system. It identifies which Suppliers (S) are delivering you which Inputs (I), those inputs then being put into use in a Process (P). All of this in order to generate Outputs (O) for Customers (C). No one really knows when and by whom it was first presented. A basic web research confirms this. However, it is safe to link its origin with the first discussions about system thinking in the late 1960s.

The SIPOC and its origin

Think of the SIPOC as an extended recipe: it shows you what ingredients (Inputs) you need to put in your recipe (Process) in order to cook your Cheesecake (Output). Friends and family eating your cheesecake are your Customers and the shopping places where you buy your Ingredients are your Suppliers.

Why use a SIPOC? Because it helps understand all elements involved in a system. Considering business processes often cross functions, involving many people and many time zones, a SIPOC helps understand how everything links together. Very rarely does any one member in an organization know a process from start to finish: the SIPOC helps link all suppliers with their inputs, list all process steps performed by all functions, identify all outputs you generate for customer satisfaction; it builds common understanding which is the foundation for continuous improvement.

Building a SIPOC

In terms of system thinking, a SIPOC occurs as it is spelled out: S > I > P > O > C

But when building a SIPOC, it is difficult to follow this sequence because it is complicated identifying suppliers when you don’t know what the inputs to the process are, and it is difficult to identify the inputs if you don’t know what the process steps are and so on and so forth.

There are many ways of building a SIPOC, the key ones being:

  • The COPIS: A popular one is to start with identifying the Customers first, then the Outputs, then the process steps, basically walking you way backwards until all Suppliers are identified. This way of building a SIPOC is referred to as COPIS: C > O > P > I > S.
  • The PISOC: My favorite one and the one I find easier to take with a large group of team members is the PISOC: P > I > S > O > C. This mainly because in the majority of cases the process to improve is already known and identified, so starting with the Process step is easier and engages the team straight away. In summary:
    1. P: Identify 10 to 12 Process steps maximum
    2. I: List all Inputs going into this process
    3. S: Identify the Suppliers providing the inputs
    4. O: Name the Outputs generated by the Process
    5. C: List the Customers benefiting of those outputs

A typical SIPOC

Unfortunately, a large number of SIPOC have no real meaning and will make no difference in a continuous improvement Lean Six Sigma project. This because of 2 reasons: first, they are detailed enough and second, they are not integrated at all. Below is an example of a typical SIPOC you can expect to find in the workplace:

How to Use SIPOC For Better Results
How to Use SIPOC For Better Results

The integrated SIPOC

An Integrated SIPOC links all components of a SIPOC together. You know exactly which inputs go into which process steps, which suppliers are providing you which inputs, which process steps generate which outputs. Everything is fully connected, leaving no doubt in a team on how the system behaves. This is really powerful because it is only with this level of understanding that a team can then look at a SIPOC and identify not only opportunities for improvement but also how to control and monitor this process going forward.

This is an example of a fully Integrated SIPOC:

A fully Integrated SIPOC
A fully Integrated SIPOC

To help connect all elements of a SIPOC together, I use codes. In the example above, in red is highlighted such a codification system for process step number 1. SIP1.4, for example, means Supplier of Input 1.4 (Process Recovery Water or IP1.4). It is called 1.4 because it is the 4th inputs going into process step number 1. As opposed to step 1 that has 7 inputs, process step 2 has only one input (IP2.1). There is only one output from step 1 and that is slurry (OP1.1). The customer of OP1.1 is process step 2 (COP1.1).

2 important notes in building an Integrated SIPOC:

  1. It is important to list the obvious Outputs when building a SIPOC but it is also very important to identify what I call the ‘hidden’ Outputs. Those hidden outputs will often require much work and will be costly. In the cheesecake example earlier, two hidden outputs of the cooking process are a messy kitchen and kitchen equipment to wash.
  2. When the SIPOC is completed, it is of paramount importance to explain to the team the difference between controlling and monitoring. In business language, this is often referred to as leading (control) and lagging (monitor) indicators. Measuring inputs and ensuring they are at the right level before being put in a process is called Control: it generates much more control and ensures a much better output if controlled, after all: garbage in, garbage out! Measuring an output is after the event and as such is what is defined as monitoring. It is still important to measure it because this is what the customers sees and feels of your process, but doesn’t help you much in improving your process. In my view, the project team should look hard at having an even split between control and monitoring metrics.

Please note that a few sessions might be necessary to build an Integrated SIPOC.

The integrated SIPOC – conclusion

In addition to engaging a project team understands the current situation around a process very well (after all, not many team members will know all the elements of a system), the Integrated SIPOC helps identify opportunities for improvements and helps identify how to put in place a powerful measuring system that will ensure sustained continuous improvement.

Once completed, the Integrated SIPOC becomes a living document. At each step of a continuous improvement project, the team can remove, change or interchange process steps, inputs and suppliers in order to achieve the desired improvement. As a consequence of this, an Integrated SIPOC looks very different at the end of a project.

The Integrated SIPOC ensures you cover all bases around a process. No rocks are left unturned, everything gets analyzed, reviewed, improved. The Integrated SIPOC, when properly built, becomes the cornerstone of an improvement project.

The Integrated SIPOC will help you no doubt in engaging your team in improving your processes. It can be used as part of a continuous improvement project, but can also be used by any manager out there who wants to engage his or her team in achieving sustained continuous improvement.

About the author

Christian has a significant leadership experience in Strategy Execution having led multiple deployments of operational excellence in organisations such as Bombardier, Transport for London, GMAC, Wolseley and Ecolab in addition to having senior operational roles leading manufacturing facilities.

His background is in industrial engineering, and he has experience with Lean, Six Sigma, Kaizens, 5S, and project management in both transaction services and operational manufacturing environments.

Christian is a certified Master Black Belt, and he started his Lean Six Sigma career as a Black Belt in 1998 for Bombardier Aerospace. He completed his Executive MBA at the University of Nottingham.