What Is A Flowchart? (With Types, Symbols And Uses)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 4 May 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Flowcharts are a method of documenting business processes and workflows. Companies use this powerful tool for planning, visualising, documenting and improving processes. A well-developed flowchart communicates the different steps of any process effectively. In this article, we answer "What is a flowchart?", share the process of creating a flowchart, discuss its components and find how its different uses.

What Is A Flowchart?

By understanding what is a flowchart, organisations and team members can better manage their workflows and processes. A flowchart is a visual representation that depicts a sequence of steps and interventions required to reach the desired result. There is a diagram for each step in the series, where arrows and connecting lines indicate how each step leads to the next. Many people can follow the process logically from start to finish using a flowchart. Here is why a flowchart is important:

  • Helps document a process

  • Establishes communication between people involved in a process

  • Provides instructions on how to do a process

  • Studies of ways to improve a process

Related: What Is Process Documentation? (Benefits, Tips And FAQ)

Symbols Used In A Flowchart

Here are a few symbols commonly used in a flowchart:

  • Oval: as the starting or ending point

  • Rectangle: to indicate a process or function

  • Diamond: for a decision between two or more paths

  • Parallelogram: for data entering or leaving the system

  • Upside-down triangle: to show the merging of two sets into one

  • Line: to represent the flow of sequence and direction

  • Circle: to indicate a jump in the process flow

  • Upside-down pentagon: to connect the separate elements of multiple pages.

  • Curly braces: for comments

  • Triangle: to symbolise the merging of multiple paths into one

How To Create A Flowchart?

Below are the steps to create a flowchart:

1. Define the scope of the flow diagram and the process involved

Identify the items you want to include in the flowchart, such as different processes, functions, data, documentation, decisions and outcomes. It is vital that your team understands different processes through flowcharts. Make sure you organise and arrange this information before creating the chart.

2. Work with team members on the flowchart

The format of flowcharts varies according to their purpose. Choosing a suitable template can make it easier for team members to understand your information. For example, in software development projects, flowcharts can be used to assess the requirement for manual intervention in automated processes.

Related: 10 Skills You Need For Team Building (And How To Develop Them)

3. Identify the process steps and their relationships

Understand each step of the process and the representation of the sequence of actions and decisions involved. Make sure that the team members discuss and agree on the steps for the process before finalising them. Make sure that you have the flexibility to update and change the flowchart as required in the future.

4. Account for omissions and finalise the flow

Optimise the flowchart by eliminating unnecessary steps, including omissions and improving the chart through several rounds of changes and iterations. Do not overcomplicate the chart and have a unidirectional flow for maximum clarity. Once the flowchart reaches its optimum stage, finalise it and start implementing the processes and steps. Ensure the shapes, text, spacing and lines on your flowchart are consistent. For example, certain colours can define certain types of decisions. Minimise bottlenecks in the process to increase efficiency.

5. Update the flow diagram periodically

Once you start following the steps of the flowchart, make sure you change the processes and actions periodically as business goals and expectations evolve. It is vital to integrate flexibility in the flowchart's design to ensure that it is readily adaptable. You can fix a period, say six months, and update the processes of the flowchart at this interval to ensure that it is up-to-date.

Related: Types of Graphs and Charts

Tips For Preparing A Flowchart

Here are some tips for preparing a flowchart:

  • Symbols: When drawing flow charts, use standard symbols.

  • Start and stop: Make sure that the flow chart has a START (or BEGIN) and a STOP (or END).

  • Unidirectional: A flowchart usually reads from top to bottom or left to right.

  • Flow lines: For a terminal symbol and a process symbol, use only one flow line.

  • Input-output: A decision symbol contains just one flow line as input but several flow lines as output.

  • No intersection: Make sure that flow lines do not intersect.

Types Of Flowcharts

The different types of flowcharts are as follows:

Document flowchart

Document flowcharts show the current state of control over the document flow through each system component. They usually aid business analysts and managers in understanding, analysing, documenting and improving work processes. According to the chart, documents flow from left to right through business units. Effective document flowcharts offer a simple way for workers and managers to identify which internal controls are in place within the organisation.

Related: What Is A Business Analyst? Definition And Career Advice

Decision flowchart

Decision flowcharts are easy to identify since they help organise decisions according to their priority. A decision flow chart is simply an outline of actions to solve a problem and includes "yes" and "no" questions and answers. One can make a decision flowchart by analysing the problem, collecting information associated with the problem, conceptualising different scenarios and laying the decision-making process into a flowchart.

Related: What Is Decision Making? Definition, Types And Tips

Swim-lane flowchart

Swim-lane flowcharts are helpful when displaying multiple flows of data simultaneously. Each row represents a category or segment of the organisation that can collaborate. You can see when different units interact and where they run parallel on the flowchart. Swim-lanes have other names like multi-column charts, functional bands or Rummler-Brache diagrams since each lane represents a business unit or department. It helps teams understand what they can accomplish together so that their projects and processes do not stall.

Organisational flowchart

Organisational charts show the internal structure of an organisation or company. A box or any other shape can represent an employee and their position. These may also display an illustration, a picture, contact information, email address or a website link. An organisational flowchart can be a matrix, hierarchical or flat. Companies use it for workforce management, resource planning, managerial and supervisory communication and genealogy.

Uses And Applications Of Flowcharts

Here are critical business processes and functions that use flowcharts:

Process documentation and data visualisation

Flowcharts help analyse, automate and improve business processes to represent business processes graphically. The use of flowcharts can aid in drawing a process model clearly and explicitly, showing each step of the process. The flow of steps from top to bottom or left to right provides a natural order to an easily understandable process.

In addition, a flowchart makes it easier to communicate with someone unfamiliar with existing norms and processes, for instance, a new employee, contractor or an external team. It decreases the time one requires to learn the processes, allowing the team to get work done faster.

Related: What Is Data Visualisation? Importance, Types And How To

Troubleshoot and fix problems

Troubleshooting is an important usage of flowcharts since it is often tricky to fix workflow problems and obstacles without knowing what went wrong and when. Companies can design a troubleshoot flowchart by identifying the problem and writing that in a box at the top or the starting point of the flowchart. Based on the problem, they can then draw arrows to the boxes with different reasons for that problem, followed by boxes for potential solutions.

Related: What Is A QA Engineer? Job Description And Responsibilities

Examine task timings

A flowchart illustrates the duration of time it takes for each step to finish. They make it easier to evaluate the process since there can be columns on the timing chart to indicate the task timing and duration. Such a flowchart can be helpful for the analysis of processes and tasks that have set deadlines. This is useful when multiple people are working on a project and require frequent communication and collaboration.

Decision-making

Individuals and businesses face the challenge of making informed decisions. It is essential to know all the relevant facts before making the right decision. Flow diagrams visualise different options, make comparison easier and assist with decision-making. A flow diagram can also show the potential consequences of each decision. Similarly, the flow diagram can assist other stakeholders in making a decision, as it enables them to understand the most important details and outcomes.

Data management

Flow diagrams have the advantage of being concise. In addition to using various symbols and connectors, flow diagrams effectively present large amounts of information. Flow diagrams are helpful for data management since they can make a complex data set easier to comprehend. For this reason, software developers often provide instructions to their users using flow diagrams.

Related: Data Management Skills (With Definition And Examples)

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