The Basics of Supply Chain Mapping

A map is a visual representation.  In the context of supply chains, it describes the flow of operations and/or information pertaining to the procurement, transformation, and logistics of products and services. 

To put it another way, it’s a visual aid that shows what a supply chain looks like and how it functions. 

The simplest way to map a supply chain is via the flow chart:

Some supply chain professionals (consultants especially) use different shapes to distinguish the kinds of processes in their maps.  Rectangles, for instance, may represent a transformation process; a triangle is a checkpoint or a quality inspection; a circle is a starting point, endpoint, or a reference to another flow map. Lines can be solid for physical flow or dotted for information flow:

 Other mapmakers go further by organising steps by departments: 

Followers of the Lean concept use Value-Stream Maps (VSMs) to show the lengths of time steps take during a process.  The point is to show which process adds value (such as where there is transformation) and which does not (such as waiting, inspection, movement):

Maps are to Supply Chain Engineers as structural plans are to Civil Engineers and as circuit schematics are to Electrical Engineers.  Whether it be to build, repair, troubleshoot, improve, or optimise, Supply Chain Engineers need maps just as every other engineer needs a diagram.   

Typical civil engineering construction plan


Typical simple electrical layout

Unlike engineering drawings which focus a lot on structures and specifications, supply chain maps put more attention on flow.  But this does not mean supply chain mapping doesn’t consider structures.  One can have supply chain maps in the context of facility plans. 

Supply chain maps can become more detailed and thereby look more complicated.  The level of detail in a supply chain map depends on how small a step is to be made visible. 

Engineering drawings are arbitrarily detailed depending on the audiences they address.  Engineers draw their plans and diagrams on differing levels of details.  They usually start with an overall plan and then break down the plan into varying descriptive drawings.  For example, civil engineers would draw an overall structural plan which would be supported by plans showing sectional details and specifications.

In the same way, SCEs would draw an overall map and add more detailed maps showing specific details of processes or steps. 

Executives, managers, staff, and stakeholders should be able to easily understand supply chain maps such that they can make rational decisions. 

Supply chain maps should be treated the same way as engineering drawings when it comes to setting up new product and logistics streams.  Many times, enterprise executives would build facilities first and then hand them over to supply chain professionals to set up and run operations.  And in those many times, the operations would start in spectacular failure or experience immense and expensive difficulties.

This is what happened when a large multinational built a new factory.  Equipment was high-tech and the manufacturing process assured high quality coupled with high-capacity production.  The drawback was the facility was located far south of the city.  Logistics managers were just told to adapt the transportation flow to the new facility.  Deliveries at the start ran into problems as truckers complained to having to drive longer distances for the same contracted freight prices.  This was eventually resolved but only after the company shouldered significant expenses. 

Supply Chain Engineering must go hand-in-hand with any planning and implementation of a new or improved process.  It cannot be a discipline that takes care of what was neglected.  It should be an active and equal participant from the start to end of any product and service strategy. 

Mapping is a basic first-step tactic Supply Chain Engineers use to make visible the supply streams they study.  Maps come in form of flow charts, value-stream maps, or operational plans.  They differ depending on how they are applied.  Their purpose is not only for visibility but also for planning.  Maps are useful for building and improving supply chains. 

We build after all based on our visions. 

Published by Ellery

Since I started blogging in 2019, I've written personal insights about supply chains, operations management, & industrial engineering. I have also delved in topics that cover how we deal with people, property, and service providers. My mission is to boost productivity via offering solutions and ideas. If you like what I write or disagree with what I say, feel free to like, dislike, comment, or if you have a lengthy discourse, email me at ; I'm also on LinkedIn:

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