Use Flowcharts to Clarify and Communicate
Flowcharting helps clarify what actually happens or needs to happen
Flowchart activity involves many separate tasks. These are often complex and they change over time in response to new customer demands, new product and service requirements, or new laws and regulations. These changes are often made in isolated, reactive and piecemeal ways, which are not necessarily best for the company or the people doing the work. In addition to external pressures for change, there is a constant need to search for new and better ways to do things in order to maintain a competitive edge, and to make life easier and more interesting for those who do the work.
The only way to control change, rather than have it control you, is to clarify what actually happens and to decide whether this is the way you want it or not. By grouping tasks into logical areas of activity (processes) and drawing flowcharts of the events which occur, it is possible to get a concise picture of the way particular processes are completed within the organization. This makes it easier for you to move on to the next logical step which is to make changes for the better. This is because the flowcharting exercise will point you in the right direction to collect and analyze relevant statistics, examine other processes which relate to the one flowcharted, and pursue critical policy or procedure problems.
Flowcharting is a tool for analyzing processes. It allows you to break any process down into individual events or activities and to display these in shorthand form showing the logical relationships between them. Constructing flowcharts promotes better understanding of processes, and better understanding of processes is a pre-requisite for improvement.
Examples of processes are "Receiving orders and entering them into the computer system" or "Converting dry-mix powder into tablet form" or "Following-up sales enquiries". The events which make up a process, and which appear in the flowchart, may be of any type. For example, they may be "taking a phone call", "completing an order form", "printing a report", "deciding between a number of alternatives", and so on. The symbols used to represent each event may take any form. They may be boxes, circles, diamonds or other shapes, or events may simply be described in words. Connections between events are always represented by lines; usually with arrowheads to show the direction or order in which they occur. These lines represent the flow of activity in the process being described; hence the name of the technique. (See the example in the `How to use it' section of this document.)
There are special applications for flowcharting (such as in computer systems design and programming, engineering, and science) which use standard sets of symbols. You must decide for yourself whether these need to be used in your particular management application. In most circumstances this will either not be necessary or you can rely on three or four simple symbols to cover most types of events. A useful set of symbols is given in the `How to use it' section below. For special standard symbols, see the `Other references' section of this document for sources you can refer to.
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