The Scripted Flowchart Process

Creating concise and effective procedures

by Douglas W. Anton

It's been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. And while I've always been partial to the old adage, I found it particularly evident while implementing the ISO 9000 standard.

During one such project, I felt the need to develop an easier way to write procedures--effective procedures that not only describe work processes, but are simple enough for the average person to understand. With that, the scripted flowchart process was born (see Figure 1).

The scripted flowchart is based on the idea that the most useful procedures are usually also the simplest. It is a straightforward documentation method that emphasizes plain English with minimal technical language, jargon and acronyms.

Creating a scripted flowchart
The flowchart has long been successfully used to illustrate systems. The first step in writing an effective procedure, therefore, is to flowchart the process.

Consider asking a team of employees who best understand the process to do the flowcharting. Emphasize the need for accuracy; the flowchart should depict what is actually occurring and not what is desired.

Next, using a two-column format, describe the responsibilities of each task. This is called play scripting. In the left column, list the "actors," or people responsible for accomplishing the task (the numbered blocks in the flowchart). Use the other column to describe the tasks and to list any necessary documents or special instructions.

Each actor listed in the left-hand column should have a corresponding task in the right-hand column.

Try to keep the script brief, but address each task until every block in the flowchart has a corresponding description.

When the flowchart and play script are complete, it's time to edit the process. Compare the flowchart and the play script, making sure that the entire work process is correctly described. By comparing the script and the flowchart, you are better able to fine-tune both, eliminating redundancies, simplifying and clarifying when necessary.

The benefits of scripted flowcharts
Unlike the traditional flowchart, the scripted flowchart is not separated from the descriptive text. With scripted flowcharts, readers don't get lost jumping between flowchart and text.

When you link a flowchart of the process to a play script describing each task, you don't need as many words. Play-scripting texts don't include lengthy scopes, definitions and other references that could confuse the reader.

The play script and flowchart make it quite clear who is responsible for each task. Furthermore, the play script provides a convenient place to list additional details such as required forms and computer system keystrokes. Identifying and presenting the process in this manner makes it easier to determine where streamlining and improvement can occur.

The demands placed on companies for better, faster and cheaper goods and services mandate that effective systems be developed, followed and constantly refined. Companies become more effective when their documentation is simple, concise and accessible. Scripted flowcharting addresses these needs by providing a method for writing procedures that helps people understand and improve work processes.

© 2000, Douglas W. Anton

DOUGLAS W. ANTON is president of Achieving Excellence in Manufacturing Consulting Group (AEM). He earned a bachelor's degree from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Anton is a member of ASQ.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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