What is a Process Flowchart?

Also called: process flowchart, process flow diagram.

Variations: macro flowchart, top-down flowchart, detailed flowchart (also called process map, micro map, service map, or symbolic flowchart), deployment flowchart (also called down-across or cross-functional flowchart), several-leveled flowchart.

A flowchart is a picture of the separate steps of a process in sequential order.

Elements that may be included are: sequence of actions, materials or services entering or leaving the process (inputs and outputs), decisions that must be made, people who become involved, time involved at each step and/or process measurements.

The process described can be anything: a manufacturing process, an administrative or service process, a project plan. This is a generic tool that can be adapted for a wide variety of purposes.

When to Use a Flowchart

  • To develop understanding of how a process is done.
  • To study a process for improvement.
  • To communicate to others how a process is done.
  • When better communication is needed between people involved with the same process.
  • To document a process.
  • When planning a project.

Flowchart Basic Procedure

Materials needed: sticky notes or cards, a large piece of flipchart paper or newsprint, marking pens.

  1. Define the process to be diagrammed. Write its title at the top of the work surface.
  2. Discuss and decide on the boundaries of your process: Where or when does the process start? Where or when does it end? Discuss and decide on the level of detail to be included in the diagram.
  3. Brainstorm the activities that take place. Write each on a card or sticky note. Sequence is not important at this point, although thinking in sequence may help people remember all the steps.
  4. Arrange the activities in proper sequence.
  5. When all activities are included and everyone agrees that the sequence is correct, draw arrows to show the flow of the process.
  6. Review the flowchart with others involved in the process (workers, supervisors, suppliers, customers) to see if they agree that the process is drawn accurately.

Flowchart Considerations

  • Don’t worry too much about drawing the flowchart the “right way.” The right way is the way that helps those involved understand the process.
  • Identify and involve in the flowcharting process all key people involved with the process. This includes those who do the work in the process: suppliers, customers and supervisors. Involve them in the actual flowcharting sessions by interviewing them before the sessions and/or by showing them the developing flowchart between work sessions and obtaining their feedback.
  • Do not assign a “technical expert” to draw the flowchart. People who actually perform the process should do it.
  • Computer software is available for drawing flowcharts. Software is useful for drawing a neat final diagram, but the method given here works better for the messy initial stages of creating the flowchart.

Excerpted from Nancy R. Tague’s The Quality Toolbox, Second Edition, ASQ Quality Press, 2004, pages 255–257.

Flowchart Examples


High–Level Flowchart for an Order-Filling Process

High-Level Flowchart for an Order-Filling Process

Detailed Flowchart

Detailed Flowchart

Commonly Used Symbols in Detailed Flowcharts

One step in the process; the step is written inside the box. Usually, only one arrow goes out of the box.rectangle - flowchart process step

arrow - flowchart flow direction Direction of flow from one step or decision to another.

diamond - flowchart decision step Decision based on a question. The question is written in the diamond. More than one arrow goes out of the diamond, each one showing the direction the process takes for a given answer to the question. (Often the answers are “ yes” and “ no.”)

semi-circle - flowchart delay or waitDelay or wait

circle - flowchart link to another page or flowchartLink to another page or another flowchart. The same symbol on the other page indicates that the flow continues there.

paralellogram - flowchart input or output Input or output

flowchart document symbolDocument

rounded rectangle or oval - flowchart start and end pointsAlternate symbols for start and end points

Develop a Process Flowchart

Create a graphical representation of the steps in a process to better understand it and reveal opportunities for improvement. Start using the Flowchart Template (Excel, 57 KB).

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