Flow Chart Definition

A flowchart is a graphic representation of how a process works, showing, at a minimum, the sequence of steps.

What is a Flowchart?

A flowchart is a diagrammatic representation that illustrates the sequence of operations to be performed to get the solution to a problem. It can be seen from the definition that a flow always accompanies with business or transaction. Not all of the flows, however, are appropriate to be expressed by flowcharts, unless these flows are based on some fixed routines and stable links. Here is an example of the algorithm flowchart.

flowchart example

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The definition of flowchart can be divided into the following two parts:

  • Flow - It is a representation of a series of logic operations to satisfy specific requirements. It can be irregular, naturally, unfixed or full of problems. For this reason, it may apparently be absent in some situations.
  • Chart - It 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 engineering.

What are the Top Benefits of Using Flowcharts?

  • Helps to clarify how things are currently working and how they could be improved.
  • Assists in finding the key elements of a process, while drawing clear lines between where one process ends and the next one starts.
  • Stimulates communication among participants and establishes a common understanding of the process.

When to Use a Flowchart?

  • Identify appropriate team members in order to see who provides inputs or resources to whom;
  • Establish important areas for monitoring or data collection;
  • Identify areas for improvement or increased efficiency;
  • Generate hypotheses about causes
  • Examine processes for the flow of patients, information, materials, clinical care, or combinations of these processes;

Main Types of Flowcharts

The main types of flowcharts are: the most simple one (high level); the detailed version (detailed); the deployment and matrix type, and the program flowchart. Alternatively, you can see this site for More Flowchart Types.

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.

deployment flowchart template

High-Level Flowchart

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 an 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 type of 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.

Detailed Flowchart

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.

Program Flowchart

Flowcharts are generally drawn in the early stages of formulating computer solutions to 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. The program flowchart also 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.

Which Type of Flowchart Should be Used?

Each type of flowchart has its strengths and weaknesses so you need to consider the following points:

  • The high-level flowchart is the easiest to construct but may not provide sufficient detail for some purposes;
  • Your team should be clear on your main purpose for flowcharting;
  • If you're unsure which to use, start with the high-level one and move on to detailed and deployment;
  • The detailed and deployment flowcharts could be time-consuming;

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:

Flowchart Symbol
Process Shape
It is used 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.
Decision shape
It is used 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.
Terminal Points
terminator shape
It indicates the ending points of a process.
On-page Reference
On-page reference shape
It is used 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.
Document shape
It represents a step that results in a document.

You can see more flowchart symbols as below:

Standard Flowchart Symbols

Tips for Drawing a Flowchart

It is not difficult to create a complex flowchart if you follow these simple skills:

When Drafting and Improve the Layout of a Flowchart

  • It is recommended that flowcharts should be created through group discussion, as individuals rarely know the entire process and communication contributes to improvement.
  • Try to develop the 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 move on.
  • If you are not sure about how to structure your flowchart, try to use only a few boxes in order to focus on the most important steps.
  • 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.
  • 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. In this way, changes can easily be made by moving things around while the group clarifies the process.

When Choosing Flowchart Symbols

  • 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 is logical.
  • 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.
  • Flowcharts are usually drawn using some standard symbols as the ones shown in the below chart. However, some special symbols, such the ones used for computing programs, can also be developed when required.

Analyzing the Detailed Flowchart to Identify Problem Areas

Once a flowchart has been constructed to represent how the process actually works, examine potential problem areas for improvement by asking yourself a series of questions including:

  • Decision symbols: Does it represent an activity to see if everything is going well? Is it effective? Is it redundant?
  • Activity symbols: Is this step redundant? Does it add value to the product or service? Is it problematic? Could errors be prevented in this activity?
  • Wait symbols: What complexities or additional problems does this wait cause? How long is the wait? Could it be reduced?
  • Document or database symbols: 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?
  • The 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?
  • 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?
  • 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?

More Flowchart Templates and Examples

The following free flowchart templates and examples include the main categories for business and educational uses. Feel free to click on any of them to see more details.

blank flowchart template recruitment management flowchart template E commerce flowchart template
Blank Flowchart Template Recruitment Management Flowchart E-commerce Flowchart Template
Job hiring flowchart schedule management flowchart Event process flowchart
Job Hiring Flowchart Schedule Management Flowchart Event Driven Process Flowchart

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