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 Software and View All
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.
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;
important areas for monitoring or data collection;
- Identify areas for
improvement or increased efficiency;
- Generate hypotheses about
- Examine processes for the flow of
patients, information, materials, clinical care, or combinations of these
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
It indicates the ending points of a process.
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.
It represents a step that results in a
You can see more flowchart symbols as below:
It is not difficult to create a complex
flowchart if you follow these simple skills:
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Try the fresh, powerful and affordable flowchart software for cross-platform projects. Use the drag-and-drop interface to add a large variety of preset highly-customizable symbols and templates for flowcharts, data flow diagrams, BPMN diagrams, workflow diagrams and more. No matter you are a diagram design beginner, or an experienced user, you can make flowcharts in just a few minutes with this tool.
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