A flowchart is a graphic representation of how a process works, showing, at a minimum, the sequence of steps.
Several types of flowcharts exist: the
most simple (high level, a detailed version (detailed, and
one that also indicates the people involved in the steps (or
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The flowchart is a means to visually
present the flow of data through
an information processing systems, the operations performed within the
system and the sequence in which they are performed. In this lesson, we
shall concern ourselves with the program flowchart, which describes what
operations (and in what sequence) are required to solve a given problem. The
program flowchart can be likened to the blueprint of a building. As we know, a
designer draws a blueprint before starting to construct a building.
Similarly, a programmer prefers to draw a flowchart prior to writing a
computer program. As in the case of the drawing of a blueprint, the
flowchart is drawn according to defined rules and using standard flowchart
symbols prescribed by the American National Standard Institute, Inc.
A flowchart is a diagrammatic representation that illustrates the
sequence of operations to be performed to get the solution of a problem.
Flowcharts are generally drawn in the early stages of formulating computer
solutions. Flowcharts facilitate communication between programmers and
business people. These flowcharts play a vital role in the programming of a
problem and are quite helpful in understanding the logic of complicated and
lengthy problems. Once the flowchart is drawn, it becomes easy to write the
program in any high level language. Often we see how flowcharts are helpful
in explaining the program to others. Hence, it is correct to say that a
flowchart is a must for the better documentation of a complex program.
Flow is a representation of a series of logic operations to satisfy
specific requirements. A flow exists naturally. It can be irregular, unfixed or
full of problems. For this reason, it may apparently be absent in some
situations. Lately, members of a team were assigned to investigate the flow of a
business process, and I was told that there were some deficiencies in the flow.
The reply from the person who was in charge of the team was that no flow was
shown in part of the business process. As a matter of fact, it is impossible for
a business carried out without a flow. It may be a flow in an unfixed form, or,
may be the person himself whom you investigated does not have a clear sense
about the flow.
Chart, or diagram, is a presentation or a written
description of some regular and common parts of the flow. A chart is conducive
to communication and concentration and offers references for process
Flow chart can be seen from the definition that a flow
accompanies always with business or transaction. Not all of the flows, however,
are appropriate to be expressed by flowcharts. Flows that can be expressed by
charts follow some fixed routines, and the key links of flows won't be changed
A flowchart helps to clarify how things are
currently working and how they could be improved. It also assists in finding
the key elements of a process, while drawing clear lines between where one
process ends and the next one starts. Developing a flowchart stimulates
communication among participants and establishes a common understanding
about the process.
Flowcharts also uncover steps that are redundant or
misplaced. In addition, flowcharts are used to identify appropriate team
members, to identify who provides inputs or resources to whom, to establish
important areas for monitoring or data collection, to identify areas for
improvement or increased efficiency, and to generate hypotheses about
causes. Flowcharts can be used to examine processes for the flow of
patients, information, materials, clinical care, or combinations of these
processes. It is recommended that flowcharts be created through group
discussion, as individuals rarely know the entire process and the
communication contributes to improvement.
A high-level (also called first-level or top-down)
flowchart shows the major steps in a process. It illustrates a "birds-eye
view" of a process, such as the example in the figure entitled High-Level
Flowchart of Prenatal Care. It can also include the intermediate outputs of
each step (the product or service produced), and the sub-steps involved.
Such a flowchart offers a basic picture of the process and identifies the
changes taking place within the process. It is significantly useful for
identifying appropriate team members (those who are involved in the process)
and for developing indicators for monitoring the process because of its
focus on intermediate outputs.
Most processes can be adequately portrayed in four
or five boxes that represent the major steps or activities of the process.
In fact, it is a good idea to use only a few boxes, because doing so forces
one to consider the most important steps. Other steps are usually sub-steps
of the more important ones.
The detailed flowchart provides a detailed picture
of a process by mapping all of the steps and activities that occur in the
process. This type of flowchart indicates the steps or activities of a
process and includes such things as decision points, waiting periods, tasks
that frequently must be redone (rework), and feedback loops. This type of
flowchart is useful for examining areas of the process in detail and for
looking for problems or areas of inefficiency. For example, the Detailed
Flowchart of Patient Registration reveals the delays that result when the
record clerk and clinical officer are not available to assist clients.
Deployment or Matrix Flowchart
A deployment flowchart maps out the process in terms
of who is doing the steps. It is in the form of a matrix, showing the
various participants and the flow of steps among these participants. It is
chiefly useful in identifying who is providing inputs or services to whom,
as well as areas where different people may be needlessly doing the same
task. See the Deployment of Matrix Flowchart.
More Flowchart Types
Which Flowchart Should be Used
Each type of flowchart has its strengths and
weaknesses; the high-level flowchart is the easiest to construct but may not
provide sufficient detail for some purposes. In choosing which type to use,
the group should be clear on their purpose for flowcharting. The table below
entitled "Type of Flowchart Indicated for Various Purposes" gives some
indications, but if you're unsure which to use, start with the high-level
one and move on to detailed and deployment. Note that the detailed and
deployment flowcharts are time-consuming.
Guideline for drawing a flowchart
Flowcharts are usually drawn using some standard symbols; however, some
special symbols can also be developed when required. Some standard symbols,
which are frequently required for flowcharting many computer programs are
How to Draw a Flowchart
Make Great-looking Flowcharts in Excel
A Set of Useful Standard Flowchart Symbols
It is not strictly
necessary to use boxes, circles, diamonds or other such symbols to construct
a flowchart, but these do help to describe the types of events in the chart
more clearly. Described below are a set of standard symbols which are
applicable to most situations without being overly complex.
Rounded box - use it to represent an event which occurs automatically.
Such an event will trigger a subsequent action, for example `receive
telephone call', or describe a new state of affairs.
Rectangle or box - use it to represent an event which is controlled
within the process. Typically this will be a step or action which is
taken. In most flowcharts this will be the most frequently used symbol.
Diamond - use it to represent a decision point in the process.
Typically, the statement in the symbol will require a `yes' or `no'
response and branch to different parts of the flowchart accordingly.
Circle - use it to represent a point at which the flowchart connects
with another process. The name or reference for the other process should
appear within the symbol.
Hints for Constructing Flowcharts
Try to develop a first draft in one sitting, going
back later to make refinements. Use the "five-minute rule": do not let five
minutes go by without putting up a symbol or box; if the decision of which
symbol or box should be used is unclear, use a cloud symbol or a note and
To avoid having to erase and cross out as ideas
develop, cut out shapes for the various symbols beforehand and place them on
the table. This way, changes can easily be made by moving things around
while the group clarifies the process.
Decision symbols are appropriate when those working
in the process make a decision that will affect how the process will
proceed. For example, when the outcome of the decision or question is YES,
the person would follow one set of steps, and if the outcome is NO, the
person would do another set of steps. Be sure the text in the decision
symbol would generate a YES or NO response, so that the flow of the diagram
In deciding how much detail to put in the flowchart
(i.e., how much to break down each general step), remember the purpose of
the flowchart. For example, a flowchart to better understand the problem of
long waiting times would need to break down in detail only those steps that
could have an effect on waiting times. Steps that do not affect waiting
times can be left without much detail.
Keep in mind that a flowchart may not need to
include all the possible symbols. For example, the wait symbol ( ) may not
be needed if the flowchart is not related to waiting times.
Improving the layout of a
Create a complex
Analyzing the Detailed Flowchart to Identify Problem Areas
Once the flowchart has been constructed to represent
how the process actually works, examine potential problem areas or areas for
improvement using one or more of the following techniques.
Examine each decision symbol: Does it represent an
activity to see if everything is going well? Is it effective? Is it
Examine each loop that indicates work being redone
(rework): Does this rework loop prevent the problem from recurring? Are
repairs being made long after the step where the errors originally occurred?
Examine each activity symbol: Is this step
redundant? Does it add value to the product or service? Is it problematic?
Could errors be prevented in this activity?
Examine each document or database symbol: Is this
necessary? Is it up to date? Is there a single source for the information?
Could this information be used for monitoring and improving the process?
Examine each wait symbol: What complexities or
additional problems does this wait cause? How long is the wait? Could it be
Examine each transition where one person finishes
his or her part of the process and another person picks it up: Who is
involved? What could go wrong? Is the intermediate product or service
meeting the needs of the next person in the process?
Examine the overall process: Is the flow logical?
Are there fuzzy areas or places where the process leads off to nowhere? Are
there parallel tracks? Is there a rationale for those?