Articles / Customer-supplier map
mapping is a technique for initiating process improvement activity by giving
it an overall orientation or direction. It creates a picture of a business
or business unit's functions to which managers and staff can continually
return to confirm that their improvement efforts are focused on the right
things. The map itself is a specialised form of flowchart, with boxes for
all your customers and suppliers showing your relationship to them. It is
divided into quadrants marked `ultimate', `immediate', `internal', and
`suppliers' (see the example below). Once completed, the map allows you to
go on to identify the customer /supplier and product /service attributes
which need to be monitored, measured and controlled to bring about improved
attempting to draw the map, there are some critical concepts to be
understood. First, why are customer and supplier relationships important?
Because process improvement activity depends for success on,
for the better only comes about when people change their behaviour, and
apart from you, the only other players are either customers or suppliers.
This makes it important to identify these relationships clearly. Every
person in an organisation has an immediate customer, regardless of who the
organisation's ultimate customers are, and every person in an organisation
relies on others - that is, suppliers - to do their job effectively.
Who are customers?
the whole reason for continuously improving processes. It is they who decide
whether your product or service offers the best value for money when they
make their purchase decisions, and their purchase decisions determine
whether your business will be a success or not.
importance of this relationship is obvious, there are a number of factors
which complicate it. Many companies do not deal directly with the ultimate
users of their products or services; they deal through intermediaries. These
intermediaries (such as wholesalers and retailers) have needs which are as
important to satisfy as those of the ultimate customers. In fact, such
intermediaries are often in a better position than you to know how the
ultimate customer feels about your product or service.Your 'business unit'
may also be part of a larger organisation which means there are even more
layers between what you and your staff do and the ultimate customer. You may
provide an internal support function (such as Administration, Personnel or
Accounting) so your contribution to product or service quality will be even
more difficult to identify. What all this means is that a customer for you
is anyone to whom you provide products or services, whether directly or
Who are suppliers?
all those whose input you rely on to do your job effectively. Obvious
suppliers are those outside the organisation from whom you acquire raw
materials for production processes, stock for re-sale, capital equipment or
equipment consumables. Not so obvious suppliers are those who provide you
with services or with information essential for you to do your job.
suppliers external to your company is one thing, but what is often
overlooked is that all those who are inside the company and on whom you rely
to do your job are also your suppliers. The importance of this realisation
is that if you do not treat internal sources of input as suppliers, it is
unlikely that you will develop the attitudes necessary to generate their
support for your improvement efforts.
Draw the map before you do anything else
Customer/Supplier map when you begin your improvement activities, or when
you wish to get an overall view of where your improvement efforts are
focused. Review the map whenever you need to affirm your key customer and
supplier relationships, and revise it when,
there is a
major change in your strategic direction
or services are added
changes are made to production processes which require different supply
How to draw the map
mapping is essentially a flowcharting exercise, with a number of key
differences. Instead of charting steps in a process, you chart the
relationship between each element of your operation and your customers and
suppliers. Boxes on the chart will identify:
departments or persons within your business or business unit
Follow the steps
below to complete your map.
taking a sheet of paper and ruling three lines to divide it into four
sections. If you are developing the map with a team, draw the lines on a
whiteboard or flipchart.
four sections from top to bottom, `ultimate', `immediate', `internal',
Go to the
part of the map labelled `internal' first and write in the names of each
department, section, or function of your business unit or operation,
drawing boxes around them as you go. (In the example shown below of a
warehousing operation, the internal sections are identified as `Goods
Receiving', `Goods storage', `Goods Despatch', etc.)
connect the boxes with lines at this stage because you will need to give
some thought to the customer/supplier relationships which actually
exist. These are not as obvious as may be first thought.
identified and written down the names of each of your business unit's
sections, identify and note in the part of the map labelled `immediate'
the types of persons, types of companies, or other departments (that is,
departments within your company but outside your unit) who directly
initiate your unit's actions. (In the example below, these are `Company
sales/order processing dept', and `Company product management /technical
dept'.) These are your immediate customers.
note in the `ultimate' part of the map, the names of the types of
persons or types of companies who initiate action by your immediate
customers. Remember that the mapping process seeks to identify
customer/supplier relationships and these do not necessarily follow the
physical flow of goods. (In the example below the ultimate customers are
amateur and professional photographers, photographic retailers, and film
the boxes drawn on the map with lines and arrowheads to indicate the
direction in which information about customer needs flows. (In the
example below this is illustrated by following the lines from amateur
and professional photographers who talk to retailers, who in turn talk
to the Company's sales/order processing staff, who in turn send
instructions to the Goods picking, packing and despatch section, etc.)
`suppliers' part of the map as the final stage of the process. The lines
will terminate with suppliers because these are the persons, companies,
or other departments on whom your business unit places its demands.
in the map point to the supplier in the relationship - that is, the
direction of the arrow will be from the customer to the supplier. This
emphasises the obligation on suppliers to constantly meet the needs of those
who initiate their tasks - their immediate customers - in order to satisfy
the needs of the ultimate users of the products which pass through their
An example of a
Customer/Supplier map appears below and is followed by a full explanation of
the elements and relationships described in it. The map was drawn for the
warehousing department of a photographic equipment, film and processing
chemicals distribution company.
The map shows
that for this business unit (which is the warehousing and distribution
department of a larger organisation), its ultimate customers are the
customers of the organisation as a whole - amateur and professional
photographers. In all its activities, the staff of this department must be
mindful of the needs of these customers.
parameters which readily spring to mind for these ultimate customers, over
which this department has control, are:
goods are handled, stored, and transported so as to prevent damage or
correct goods are delivered in the correct quantities
goods are available to customers when required
goods with a limited shelf life are not delivered when already out of
In order to see
that these parameters are met to the highest standards, the warehousing
department must ensure that its relationships with its immediate customers
are sound. The map shows that the warehousing department's immediate
customers are the company's order processing and product
management/technical departments. Why is this so? The word `immediate' in
this situation is used in its true sense to mean `not mediated' or `direct'.
So an immediate customer is someone with whom you deal directly who is
either the user of your products or services or who represents the interests
of the user of your products or services. The company's Sales/order
processing staff talk directly to retailers about their needs and pass on
this information to the warehouse. They are acting on the ultimate
customer's behalf and so must be treated by warehouse staff as if they are
the customer. The same applies to the company's product management/technical
staff who act on the ultimate customer's behalf by setting specifications
for how to store goods properly, how to pack them so as to prevent damage
and how to detect and correct defective goods.
operations, or `internal' to the warehouse, the various sections act as
suppliers to each other. Goods receiving section respond to the needs of
Goods storage, who in turn respond to Picking, packing and despatch section
and so on. If each part of the organisation treats the people to whom it
responds immediately as its customers, then the whole organisation is able
to continuously focus on delivering the best quality and value products and
services to its ultimate customers.
Finally, the map
shows the suppliers outside the warehousing department on which it relies
for input. In addition to manufacturers, packaging materials companies,
materials handling equipment companies, and carriers, these suppliers
include the company's data processing department which provides the stock
control system used by the warehouse.
The benefits of
this mapping process are that you will have,
identified immediate customers, so the tasks of identifying needs,
measuring effectiveness, and solving problems can begin in the right
clearer picture of who you need to speak with to clarify customer needs,
and product or service specifications
identified those on whom you rely to do your job effectively - your
suppliers - so you can begin work on communicating your needs to them
more effectively, measuring their effectiveness, and solving problems.