Flow charts show the steps of a process in sequential order. They're handy to employ when documenting or understanding how something is done, improving a process, communicating a process to others or when planning a project. They also assists in identifying inefficiencies and opportunities.

Why use a process flow chart?

These are simple to construct and easy to understand. They are also highly informative because they illustrate the decisions you have to make and the steps you need to take. They can also help you estimate time and identify who you should involve in any decisions.

You can use them to:

  • define and analyse processes
  • communicate steps to other people involved in a process
  • standardise a process
  • improve a process
  • identify bottlenecks or troubleshoot a problem

By drawing a flow diagram, you can hone in on each individual stage without feeling overwhelmed by the rest of the process.

What is a process flow chart?

Process flow charts are easy-to-understand diagrams that show how the steps in a process fit together so you can easily communicate it to other people. Their simplicity makes them useful tools for communicating how processes work and for documenting how to do a particular job. The act of mapping out a process using a flow chart can clarify your understanding of it and help you improve it.

How we do it

To draw a process flow chart, identify the tasks and decisions you make during a process and write them down in order. Then, arrange these steps in the flow chart format using the appropriate shapes for actions to take and decisions to make. Complete with 'Start' and 'Finish' symbols to show the beginning and end of the process.

Finally, test your flow chart to make sure it accurately represents the process and that it shows the most efficient way of doing the job.

Identify tasks

Begin by listing all the tasks in a process in chronological order. Ask questions such as 'What happens next in the process?', 'Do you need to make a decision before the next step?' or 'What approvals are required before you move on to the next task?'.

Put yourself in the shoes of the person using the process. Better yet, take a hands-on approach and go through the process yourself or talk to team members who work with the process directly.

Organise and document tasks

Next, start your flow chart by drawing the elongated circle shape and labelling it 'Start'. Then work through your whole process and show the actions and decisions in the order they happen. Link them with arrows to illustrate the flow of the process.

Where you need to make a decision, draw arrows from the decision diamond to each possible solution and then label each arrow with the decision made. Remember to show the end of the process by using an elongated circle labelled 'Finish'.

Test

When you've completed your flow chart, double-check it to make sure you haven't overlooked anything. Work through each step and ask yourself whether you have correctly represented the sequence of actions and the decisions involved in the process. Show your flow chart to other people, especially those who work directly with the process, and ask them whether it is comprehensive and to test that it works.

Challenge

If you want to improve the process, look at the steps you have identified and check whether any of them are unnecessary or whether they are duplicated. Are there any other steps you should include? Have you assigned jobs to the right people?

To continue improving efficiency, you should ask yourself whether each of the steps is needed, whether the requirements they address still exist and whether new technologies can improve the process. Identify any major bottlenecks and deal with them to improve performance.