Have you ever considered simplifying a process in your organization but have no idea where to start? Or have trouble understanding a process that is very detailed. Flowcharts are very useful in such cases and make you understand at a glance how you want the process. Using just a few words or symbols, they clearly show you what happens at each stage of the process and how this change affects other decisions and actions.
Effective use of flowcharts will help you simplify and solve business problems. Using a flowchart, you can identify and use the best process for yourself. In this article, we will look at how to draw and use flowcharts and explore how this tool can help you solve process problems.
What is a flowchart?
Flowcharts are simple and understandable diagrams that show how the steps of a process are coordinated. Frank Gilbreth is an American engineer who first wrote a process flow in 1921 and introduced the “process diagram” to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Flowcharts are usually made up of four main symbols that are connected by arrows indicating the process path:
1. Ellipses, which indicate the beginning and end of the process.
2. Rectangles that represent instructions or actions.
3. Lozenges that indicate the time of decision making.
4. parallelograms represent inputs and outputs that can include materials, services, or people.
When are flowcharts used?
All organizations (regardless of the type of activity they perform) use flowcharts in the following cases:
- Process definition.
- Process standardization.
- Provide expression and explanation of the process and convey its meaning to individuals.
- Identify problems, inefficiencies and reasons for wasting resources in the process.
- Problem Solving.
- Process improvement.
For example, experienced team members can use flowcharts to complete activities in the order specified. The manufacturer can ensure the quality of its products by using a quality control flowchart that identifies questions and decision points. Or a company’s human resources department can combine flowcharts with organizational charts to indicate to people who they should go to in the event of a problem in their department and when.
Why should we use flowcharts?
This tool clarifies and speeds up the process of documenting and conveying the concept of the process, thereby facilitating understanding of the process and its proper and consistent use. It can also help you estimate the time scale of the process, better determine the time required to complete each task, and reduce the likelihood of erroneous estimation. In addition, it helps you determine who enters the company process and at what stage, and takes responsibility for the specified tasks.
But drawing a flowchart step by step can have its benefits for you. Through flowcharts, you can focus on the full details of each step without feeling overwhelmed by the organization, and after completing the steps, examine your process from the outside with a more general view.
How to draw a flowchart
Follow these four steps:
Step 1: Identify the tasks
To get started, list the tasks that need to be done during the process in chronological order. Then ask yourself the following questions:
What happens next in the process? Do I have to make a decision before entering the next stage? What confirmations are required before entering the next step?
Put yourself in the shoes of those who probably want to use this process for the first time. Talk to those team members who work directly with the process and ask for their opinion on the changes and improvements needed by the process. It is better to take an operational approach and follow the desired practice once in a while and think about the operational points of each step. If your flowchart is about customer service, use the implementation of customer experience to gain a better understanding of the process.
Step 2: Organize and document tasks
At this point, start by drawing an ellipse and naming it “Start”. Then work from the bottom of the list eliminating issues that are not worth the fight. Use arrows to connect them and visualize the process flow.
During the process, wherever a decision needs to be made, drag an arrow from the decision rhombus to the possible and available answers, and name each arrow according to the answer to the question asked in the decision rhombus (for example, yes or no). Use an ellipse to indicate the end of the process and name it “end”.
Step 3: Review the process
Once you have completed your flowchart, return to the starting point and review it again to make sure nothing is missed. Work on each step of the process to see if you have followed the order of actions and decisions that need to be made in the process. Are there any other decisions in the process that you have forgotten?
Then show your flowchart to others, especially those who are directly involved in the valley process. Ask them to read it and let you know if they have any problems or shortcomings.
Step 4: Flowchart test
Finally, you may want to improve your process. In this regard, review the process steps and see which ones are unnecessary or too complicated. Identify the main bottlenecks and fix them to improve process performance.
Regardless of the size of the steps, have you missed a step? Have you assigned tasks and decisions to the right people? Make the necessary changes. Test your flowchart again.
Flowchart drawing software
You will probably need to manually draw flowcharts, but it is best to continue using charting software to save, correct, and share your flowcharts.
Some suitable software for this purpose are:
- Pencil Project;