Flowchart Tutorials - Flowchart Resource Center
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.
The 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.
See more on Flowchart Definition.
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 modeling techniques.
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
When to use flowchart? 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 procedures.
- 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 the continuation.
- 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.
How to Make a Flowchart
Many methods for constructing flowcharts have been described and you can safely use any one of them, as long as you start out by doing these:
- 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.
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 accurately.
- 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 steps.
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 the process:
- 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 technical documentation.
- 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 variation.
- Cost-added-only steps. Such steps add no value to the output of the process and should be earmarked for elimination.
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 decision point.
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 process works.
You need to avoid these pitfalls when developing your flowchart and take measures to correct them when they are revealed through flowchart interpretation.
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 charts 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 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 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 and its usage, then you can hop online to learn the skills easily.
Download Professional Flowchart Software:
See more in Flow Chart Resource