Flowchart Definitions and Objectives
Flowcharts are maps or graphical representations of a process. Steps in
a process are shown with symbolic shapes, and the flow of the process is
indicated by arrows connecting the symbols. Computer programmers
popularized flowcharts in the 1960s, using them to map the logic of
programs. In quality improvement work, flowcharts are particularly useful
for displaying how a process currently functions or can ideally function.
Flowcharts can help you see whether the steps of a process are logical,
uncover problems or miscommunications, define the boundaries of a process,
and develop a common base of knowledge about a process. Flowcharting a
process often brings to light redundancies, delays, dead ends, and indirect
paths that would otherwise remain unnoticed or ignored. But flowcharts don't
work if they aren't accurate, if team members are afraid to describe what
actually happens, or if the team is too far removed from the actual workings
of the process.
Flowchart (also spelled flow-chart and flow chart) is a
schematic representation of a
process. They are commonly used in business/economic
presentations to help the audience visualize the content better,
or to find flaws in the process.
A flowchart is a simple mapping tool that shows the sequence of actions
within a process.
flowchart is one of the seven basic tools of quality control,
which include the histogram, Pareto chart, check sheet, control
chart, cause-and-effect diagram, flowchart, and scatter diagram.
Flowcharts were used
historically in electronic data processing to
represent the conditional logic of computer
programs. With the emergence of structured
programming and structured design in the 1980s,
visual formalisms like data flow diagrams and
structure charts began to supplant the use of
flowcharts in database programming. With the
widespread adoption of such ALGOL-like computer
languages as Pascal, textual models have been
used more and more often to represent
algorithms. In the 1990s Unified Modeling
Language began to synthesize and codify these
Today, flowcharts are
one of the main tools of business analysts and
others who seek to describe the logic of a
process in a graphical format. Flowcharts and
cross-functional flowcharts can commonly be
found as a key part of project documentation or
as a part of a business process document.
Flowcharts are widely used in education,
clinical settings, service industries and other
areas where graphical, logical depiction of
process is helpful.
When Should We Use Flowcharts
At the beginning of your process improvement efforts, an "as-is"
flowchart helps your team and others involved in the process to
understand how it currently works. The team may find it helpful to
compare this "as-is flowchart" with a diagram of the way the process
is supposed to work. Later, the team will develop a flowchart of the
modified process again, to record how it actually functions. At some
point, your team may want to create an ideal flowchart to show how
you would ultimately like the process to be performed.
The benefits of using flowcharts are that they
Promote process understanding by explaining the
steps pictorially. People may have differing ideas
about how a process works. A flowchart can help you gain
agreement about the sequence of steps. Flowcharts promote
understanding in a way that written procedures cannot do. One
good flowchart can replace pages of words.
Provide a tool for training employees.
Because of the way they visually lay out the sequence of steps
in a process, flowcharts can be very helpful in training
employees to perform the process according to standardized
Identify problem areas and opportunities for process
improvement. Once you break down the process steps and
diagram them, problem areas become more visible. It is easy to
spot opportunities for simplifying and refining your process by
analyzing decision points, redundant steps, and rework loops.
Depict customer-supplier relationship, helping the process workers understand
who their customers are, and how they may sometimes act as suppliers, and
sometimes as customers in relation with other people.
What Symbols Are Used in Flowcharts
The flowchart symbols that are commonly used in
flowcharts have specific meanings and are connected by arrows
indicating the flow from one step to another.
Oval. An oval indicates both the starting
point and the ending point of the process.
Box. A box represents an individual step or
activity in the process.
Diamond. A diamond shows a decision point,
such as yes/no or go/no-go. Each path emerging from the diamond
must be labeled with one of the possible answers.
Circle. A circle indicates that a
particular step is connected within the page. A numerical value
placed in the circle to indicate the sequence continuation.
Pentagon. A pentagon indicates that a
particular step of the process is connected to another page or
part of the flowchart. A letter placed in the circle clarifies
Flow line. This indicates the direction flow
of the process.
What Are the Levels of Flowchart Detail
When you are developing a flowchart, consider
how it will be used and the amount and kind of information needed by
the people who will use it. This will help you determine the level
of detail to include.
Macro Level. The top leadership may not
need the amount of detail required by the workers in a process.
A big picture, or macro-level view of the process may be
enough for their purposes. Generally, a macro-level flowchart
has fewer than six steps. Think of it as a view of the ground
from an airplane flying 30,000 feet above sea level.
Mini Level. The term (mini or midi) is
used for a flowchart that falls between the big picture of the
macro level and the fine detail of the micro level. Typically,
it focuses on only one part of the macro-level flowchart. Using
the airplane analogy, you see the level of detail as if looking
at the ground from 10,000 feet above sea level.
Micro level. People trying to improve the
way a job is done need a detailed depiction of process steps.
The micro-level, or ground level view provides a very detailed
picture of a specific portion of the process by documenting
every action and decision. It is extensively used to chart how a
particular task is performed.
Many methods for constructing flowcharts have been described and
you can safely use any one of them, as long as you start out by
Identify the right people to develop the chart.
Determine what you expect to get from the flowchart.
Identify who will use it and how.
Define the level of detail you need.
Establish the boundaries of the process to be improved.
A word about boundaries. These are the starting and ending
points for your flowchart. For example, process boundaries for a
repair shop overhauling a pump might be when the pump enters the
shop and when it passes final testing. The boundaries determine
the number of activities to be studied and the number of people
involved in the process, functionality and cross-functionality.
At first, many teams struggle with the
flowchart tool. Team
members may be unsure about process
flowchart boundaries or disagree on the
level of detail needed. The first few drawings quickly become a
tangled mess of lines as steps are added, moved, and reconnected.
And most discouraging of all, workers may question the value of the
flowchart and fail to use it in their daily work.
See a Example:
How to Draw a Flowchart
What Are the Keys to Successful Flowcharting
It is vital that you start by depicting the process the way it
really works, not the way you think it should work. You need to
chart the process as it is. Later you can chart it as it is supposed
to work (by regulation), or as you would like it to work (your ideal
picture of the process). Here are the keys:
Start with the big picture. It is best to
draw a macro-level flowchart first. After you have depicted this
big picture of the process, you can develop other diagrams with
increased levels of detail.
Observe the current process. A good way to
start the flowcharting process is to walk through the current
process, observing it in actual operation.
Record the process steps you observed.
Record the steps as they actually occur in the process as it is.
Write the steps on index card notes. You can use a
different color to represent each individual or group involved
if that will help you understand and depict the flow more
Arrange the sequence of steps. Now arrange
the cards or Post-it™ notes exactly as you observed the steps.
Using cards lets you rearrange the steps without erasing and
redrawing and prevents ideas from being discarded simply because
it's too much work to redraw.
Draw the flowchart. Depict the process
exactly as you observed, recorded, and arranged the sequence of
What Are the Types of Flowcharts
Besides the three levels of detail used to categorize flowcharts,
there are three main types of flowcharts: linear, deployment,
and opportunity. The level of detail can be depicted as macro, mini,
or micro for each of these types.
The viewgraphs that accompany the explanation below will show how
one process produce the Plan of the Day (POD),
which might be depicted using one of the following three flowchart types:
Linear flowchart. A linear flowchart is a diagram
that displays the sequence of work steps that make up a process.
This tool can help to identify rework and redundant or unnecessary
steps within a process.
Deployment flowchart. A deployment
flowchart shows the actual process flow and identifies the
people or groups involved in each step. Horizontal lines define
customer-supplier relationships. This type of chart shows where
the people or groups fit into the process sequence, and how they
relate to one another throughout the process.
Opportunity flowchart. An opportunity flowchart, a
variation of the basic linear type, differentiates process
activities that add value from those that increase cost only.
Value-added steps (VA) are essential
for producing the required product or service. In other
words, the output cannot be produced without them.
Cost-added only steps are not
essential for producing the required product or service.
They may be added to a process in anticipation of something
that might go wrong, or because of something that has gone
wrong. For example, end-of-process inspection might be
instituted because of defects, errors, or omissions that
occurred in the past. Other CAO steps may depend on actions in supplier
processes, for instance, waiting for approvals or the availability of equipment.
How do We Interpret Flowcharts
A flowchart will help you understand your process and uncover
ways to improve it as you use it to analyze what is happening.
Interpreting your flowchart will help you to:
determine who is involved in the process;
form theories about root causes;
identify ways to streamline the process;
determine how to implement changes to the process;
locate cost-added-only steps;
provide training on how the process works or should work.
Sequence Steps of Analyzing Flowchart
Step 1 - Examine each process step for
the following conditions that indicate a need to improve
Bottlenecks. These are the points in the
process where it slows down and may be caused by redundant or
unnecessary steps, re-work, lack of capacity, or other factors.
Weak links. These are steps where problems
occur because of inadequate training of process workers,
equipment that needs to be repaired or replaced, or insufficient
Poorly-defined steps. These are the steps
that are not defined well and may be interpreted and performed
in a different way by each person involved, leading to process
Cost-added-only steps. Such steps add no
value to the output of the process and should be earmarked for
Step 2 - Examine each decision symbol. You may
want to collect data on how often there is a (yes or no) answer at
decision points marked by a diamond-shaped symbol. If most decisions
go one way rather than the other, you may be able to remove this
Step 3 - Examine each rework loop. Processes
with numerous checks generate rework and waste. Examine the
activities preceding the rework loop and identify those that need to
be improved. Look for ways to shorten or eliminate the loop.
Step 4 - Check each activity symbol. Does the
step help build a key quality characteristics into the end product?
If not, consider eliminating it.
What Pitfalls Do We Need to Watch Out for
Throughout this discussion, we have assumed that the flowchart
you are analyzing reflects the way the process actually functions in
the work environment. This is often not the case. There are a number
of things that can go wrong when you create your flowchart that may
interfere with interpretation and full understanding of the process.
Those developing the flowchart may have drawn it to
represent the process as they envision it, not as it is.
People may be reluctant to depict the obviously illogical
parts of the process for fear they will be called upon to
explain why they allowed it to be that way.
Rework loops are either not seen or not documented because
people assume that rework is small and inevitable.
People drawing the flowchart truly do not know how the
You need to avoid these pitfalls when developing your flowchart
and take measures to correct them when they are revealed through
How Can Flowcharts Be Created Easily
Flow charts can be created with the help
of many internet web sites that offer such services. Many types of
software's for Flow chart diagram are also available that would
assist you to build or create many types of flow charts. Flow chart
diagram depicts the major steps of the flow chart so that you can
concentrate on the detailed parts easily. Flow chart diagram makes
flowcharting even more systematic as you first design the major
issues and then deal with the detailed ones sequentially. This
frees the programmer from the chores of remembering all the major
parts. Furthermore, Flow chart diagram makes the understanding of
the system more meaningful. For example- if we have to design a
flowchart of a manufacturing unit then we first decide the total
number of processes that would take place. Then we would create a
Flow chart diagram consisting of input/output, total number of
processes and their flow. The next step would be to elaborate all
the processes one by one in detail.
Therefore, if you are into a programming
business or rely on flow charts for designing your system, then the
best way to accomplish this task is using these flow chart
diagrams. This would not only enhance your capability and
understandability but would also help you in explaining the system
to its users in a more convenient way. Moreover, it would be
useful when you would need to refer to it in later future for upgrading
your system or for maintenance. If you are not aware of the flow
chart diagram and its usage, then you can hop online to learn the
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