What is a flowchart?

Flowchart is defined as a diagram that describes a process, system, or even a computer algorithm. The tool is commonly used in various areas to document, plan, study, improve and communicate processes considered complex from clear and easy-to-understand diagrams.

Flow charts generally use icons in the form of rectangles, diamonds, ovals, among other possibilities that define each type of step. Connection arrows are also used to determine flow and sequence.

It is possible to use simple, hand-drawn charts or diagrams that are more complete, drawn on the computer, that describe a large number of steps and routes.

Taking into account all the forms of flow diagram, we observe that it is one of the most used diagrams in the world, both by technical and non-technical people and in different areas of specialization.

When did flow charts start to be used?

The earliest records of using flowcharts to document processes are from the 1920s, when Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, who were industrial engineers, presented the process flowchart to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

The tool was successful due to the practicality provided for presenting complex processes. During the 1940s, Morgensen’s students, Bem S. Graham and Arte Spinanger, spread their methods by presenting the work simplification modules to Procter and Gamble.

From there, the flowchart methods have been improved. In 1947, ASME began using a graphic symbol system to facilitate the construction of the process flow diagram. Since then, it has been used in a variety of work areas, including computer programs and algorithms of all kinds.

Why use a process flow diagram?

The process flow diagram appears as an indispensable resource in process analysis. But, after all, what exactly is a flowchart?

The tool in question can be described as a detailed mapping of the workflow or activities of a process using graphic symbols. In other words, it is a graphic representation of the trajectory of the processes in a project.

It is impossible to consider project management really efficient without taking into account each step and how they communicate. Hence the importance of considering a good application of this tool in your process management approach.

To be clear on exactly how you can use the process flow diagram, let’s look at some fundamental tips.

What are the types of flowchart?

It is important to emphasize that a flow chart can be of different types, each of which has a specific proposal. Discover below the main types of flowchart.

Blocks diagram

It is the simplest model of flow diagrams. It consists only of blocks, it is used as a process sequence, without including decision points. It is generally used as a simple work instruction (Its) or when it is necessary to make a macro representation of a process.

Simple process flow diagram

Basically, this type has the same proposal as the block diagram, but includes decision points, which guide users on what to do in relation to a given process.

Functional flow diagram

Its objective is to show the sequence of activities of a process between the sections or areas in which it occurs. It is widely used in processes that cover more than one area. By identifying those responsible for each phase, it points to possible bottlenecks in the process.

Vertical flow diagram

Often called a Process Diagram, the vertical flow diagram is made up of symbols and patterns arranged in vertical columns, making it easy to fill.

Its advantage is that it makes it quicker to complete, as well as clarity for interpretation and readability. For this reason, it is generally applied in studies of production processes.

How to formulate a process flow diagram?

To be successful in applying a process flow diagram, it is essential that the stages of its development are followed in the order listed below.

Although simple, it is a recommendation that must be strictly followed, since a flowchart should serve to visually present a process in detail.

First stage

Initially, it is necessary to clearly consider which process will be assigned. Therefore, on longer projects it is important to accurately determine the cut point to be analyzed and described.

This part can be a bit tricky as there are extensive flows that are made up of many steps. Therefore, it is recommended that large projects be divided into different flow charts, considering some criteria to define where the beginning and end of each section will be.

Second stage

Now is the time to thoroughly analyze each process involved in the flow and how it relates to others. It is crucial that the symbols have uniformity in their meaning, like the traditional flowchart scheme that uses circles and rectangles.

But beware! The process flow diagram should not be based on what is expected to happen in each project. Rather, the design must be in accordance with the reality of the processes, even if it is confusing and contains overlaps that do not seem necessary.

The reason for this recommendation is obvious, as the tool is intended to accurately identify errors and problems by following the evaluated procedures.

Third stage

The purpose of this step is to understand what the step of each activity is and what it means to map them. For this, it is recommended to ask the following questions:

  • What starts this process?
  • What are the steps from the beginning of the process to its completion?
  • Is the activity in question an action or task (for example, buying material)?
  • Is it configured as a revision (eg registry information revision)?
  • Does the activity consist of an approval (for example, approving the acquisition of a material)?
  • Is it a wait (for example, waiting for a budget to be closed)?
  • Does the activity in question require registration (eg register with ERP)?
  • To do this mapping, it is essential to understand all of its steps and what the inputs and outputs are. This will make it easier to connect the points on the flowchart. There are activities that have more than one entrance or exit.

Fourth stage

From the list of previously created tasks, it’s time to start drawing the flow by selecting the icon that corresponds to each activity. If you are dealing with an approval, use a rhombus. If it is an action, choose to use a rectangle. And so it continues until the process is complete.

Know that there are many different icons to use in the flowchart, allowing for better organization of processes. It is not mandatory to use all the icons, but it is crucial to leave the drawing and it is easy to understand, since the objective of the flowchart is to be an intelligent reference.

How to define responsibilities in the flow chart?

In addition to facilitating a professional to follow the progress of a project, the process flow diagram can be very useful when assigning and verifying agents at each stage.

Using the flowchart you can easily see who is responsible for each process, how they are connected and how they can communicate in each project.

Having a modern workflow system, in this case, can be decisive, as some already have management panels that allow those involved in the processes to hold simple conferences about the project and their respective managers.

How to monitor a process flow diagram?

Frequent observation of the flowchart is one of the most important parts of its implementation in an agency, since it allows to detect bottlenecks and errors as they occur.

In the same way, the diagnosis in a short time also allows to adopt solutions more quickly. Therefore, it is essential that the agency has a process management system that guarantees accessibility to project supervision.

How to use the flowchart for documentation?

Even today, there are agencies that do not adequately document their processes, especially those that are creative in nature. Following this error, it is common that important information is not accessible to everyone or is not available for further verification, causing problems resulting in loss and delay.

The structure of the flowchart is extremely useful in condensing a variety of important information and presenting it concisely to all who need it  . So whether it’s for real-time tracking or future searches, the flowchart is a smart way to store project data.

It is interesting to note that the information described in the flowchart is much more accessible to all than if it were described in a text, which could generate many interpretations.

What is process analysis?

Really efficient agency management implies the incessant search for points to improve in all phases of projects. Based on this need, the use of process analysis stands out as a way of structuring the procedures that are adopted in the company to analyze them.

By analyzing processes and using the information collected, it is possible to identify flaws and bottlenecks in the workflow.

What is the importance of process analysis?

Now, once we have defined how a process analysis works, it is easy to see how the method has positive effects in different aspects that affect the growth and development of the agency.

Having the ability to constantly improve is one of the requirements for a company to remain competitive. Therefore, with proper analysis and use of process flow diagrams, more and more efficiency and agility can be achieved.