How do I Create a Supply Chain Map?

Paul Woods

Creating a supply chain map is a multi-step process with each step having a number of individual requirements. The map creator begins by determining what type of map is needed, process or strategic. With the type of map determined, information about the environment to be mapped is gathered and then put in the format that best communicates it to the end users. The map should be distributed to end users with a method for feedback established.

An illustration of a supply chain.
An illustration of a supply chain.

A supply chain map is a representation on paper, using lines, words and symbols, of an existing business process or a strategy to develop a process. The process being mapped involves how a company’s product ultimately gets to consumers. Supply chain mapping has become increasingly important as companies outsource much of the manufacturing process. The goal of any map is to help a company evaluate and monitor the efficiency of its processes.

A supply chain is an organizational system used by companies to move products from their warehouses to consumers.
A supply chain is an organizational system used by companies to move products from their warehouses to consumers.

If a company does not yet have a supply process in place, a strategic supply chain map is the first requirement. The supply strategy to be mapped should reflect the overall strategy of the company. Information to be gathered includes where the supply process fits in the company’s tactics, how the supply process relates to the company’s values, how the supply process relates to the company’s goals, and how the effectiveness of the process will be measured.

For those companies with an existing supply process, the process of creating a map typically begins at the end of the process, with the consumer. Working backward, the map creator notes each step the company takes to place the product in a consumer’s hands. Examples of these processes, working backward, include shipping, packaging, safety testing, assembly, and parts acquisition.

The degree of detail in either the strategic or process supply chain map varies with the end users. It is typically best to begin with the end users in mind, understanding what information needs to be communicated to them, and then setting the parameters of the map based on that. In all facets of the mapping process, the goal of effective communication to the end users of the map typically guides the effort.

Once the strategic or process information is gathered, the data is mapped on paper, typically using lines to indicate the flow of materials or processes and variously shaped boxes to contain words describing what is happening to the materials at each stage of the process. Internal consistency should drive the types of lines, boxes, and symbols used and, if necessary, a key should be included, much as with a road map. As an example, a single line can indicate the flow of goods from one supplier to the next while a double line might indicate the flow of goods from two suppliers to a third. Usually, the meaning of lines and shapes on the map is up to the map creator.

The purpose of a supply chain map is to help those at a company at both the strategic and process levels understand how products flow from conception to consumer. An effective map is typically designed to communicate clearly as a stand-alone document so that those working on one part of the process can understand all parts. Someone who creates one should also have a plan for distributing the document and receiving feedback.

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