What Is a Flowchart? (Plus Common Types, Uses and How-to)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 27 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Flow charts are a great way to divide complicated processes into smaller and more manageable steps. They're helpful in many fields of knowledge, from sports to finance. Learning about how to create a flowchart may help you improve your team's productivity and efficiency. In this article, we answer the question "What is a flowchart?", describe when to use one and provide a guide on how to create one.

What is a flowchart?

If you're wondering the answer to "What is a flowchart?", a flowchart is a graphical depiction of a particular process. You can use a flowchart to outline each step in a process through the use of symbols and short descriptions. By using arrows, you can connect the symbols and depict a sequence of steps. Some of the most common symbols used in a flowchart include:

  • Oval: This symbol indicates the start of a process.

  • Rectangle: A rectangle depicts a normal step in the process.

  • Diamond: Diamonds show a branch in a flowchart.

  • Circle: A circle indicates a jump in the process flow.

  • Parallelogram: Parallelograms demonstrate data input or output.

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When to use a flowchart

You can use flowcharts for multiple reasons, including:

Project management

Using a flowchart enables you to outline a project's details and requirements in a visual manner. Instead of using multiple documents, a flowchart can help you display processes that clearly illustrate what happens when, who does what and what results to expect from each step. You can use cross-functional flowcharts to create a project diagram that can help track every step of the process.

For example, a targeted marketing project may include several steps, such as research, planning, execution and analysis, and a flowchart may show each step of the process. This may help a team track the progress of a project and plan for the future.

Product design and development

With a flowchart, you can also depict exactly how a product works, including its design and development. Depending on the type of product, a flowchart for product design can be simple or very complex. The ultimate goal is to illustrate the design and function of a product and plan for multiple iterations. For example, a flowchart for the design of a product for the medical field may show the following steps:

  • general design

  • use of special materials

  • connection to other systems

  • testing and analysis

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Data management

You can use flowcharts to capture, manage, analyse and share data. You can also create standardised processes for determining the difference between data sets. Flowcharts can help visualise data to make more effective analyses and decisions. For example, an HR team may benefit from a flowchart that shows how to manage employee data, including:

  • how to retrieve employee data using existing processes

  • how to store and organise employee information

  • where to find training materials

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Business process documentation

Flowcharts can help you improve business process efficiency. Using a flowchart helps illustrate each step, decision and outcome of a business process. This helps companies see where there are areas they can improve upon to reduce costs and increase efficiency. For example, a business can use a flowchart to help document its hiring process to identify whether there are steps that aren't required or aren't cost-effective.

Technical documentation

You can use flowcharts to create technical documentation, such as software manuals. Flowcharts help you capture, organise and display the specific steps of the development, implementation and usage of the software. This may help end-users instal and use software and address issues that may arise without third party help. For example, a flowchart for a software manual may depict how end users can use specific features of the software. You can also include what messages users may receive, depending on performing certain actions.

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Quality management

Flowcharts can help an organisation improve quality management. A flowchart can clearly designate responsible staff for each step of a product manufacturing process, which can be helpful in resolving product quality issues. For example, if a product is defective, a flowchart may help the company find the specific area where the defect occurred and enquire with the responsible employee. You can also use flowcharts to create checklists for quality assurance professionals to follow when performing their duties to ensure proper procedures are followed.

Risk management opportunities

Flowcharts are useful for helping plan for risks that can affect a project or an organisation. Using flowcharts can help manage risk by identifying any single point of failure in a process. For example, if a single step in a flowchart branches out into many other components, this indicates that a failure of that step may cause multiple failures in the process.

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Team collaboration

Flowcharts can help teams work together more effectively. Flowcharts can be used to identify clearly which departments are responsible for different steps and require collaboration to be completed. They can also help you identify which coworker to seek for help if you're having issues with part of a process.

Types of flowcharts

Here are three common types of flowcharts you can use in the workplace:

Process flow diagram

You can also refer to a process flow diagram as a process flowchart, schematic flow diagram, top-down flowchart, system flow diagram or system diagram. Use a process flow diagram to show the relationships between the primary functions of a product. You can use this chart to outline or document a new process or improve an old one.

Workflow diagram

A workflow diagram shows every step of a process from start to finish, along with the responsibilities of the individuals involved. The objective of creating a workflow diagram is to analyse a process, standardise it and identify areas of improvement. You can use a workflow diagram in many industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, finance and government agencies. To create a workflow diagram, it's important to first decide whether the process is “as is” or “to be.” An “as is” diagram shows how a process currently works, while a “to be” diagram shows the desired process.

Data flow diagram

A data flow diagram shows the flow of information from a source to its destination. Data warehousing practitioners and database administrators often create these diagrams to map out the various routes within a data network. A data flow diagram can also help you identify vulnerabilities in cyber security and areas of inefficient data flow.

How to create a flowchart

You can create a flowchart by following these five steps:

1. List all the tasks

Identify the tasks you plan to diagram. If you're creating a flowchart that depicts a timeline, you can assign deadlines to each of your tasks so you can create a chronological diagram. For example, if you are creating a flowchart for a marketing project, you can list all the tasks assigned to your team to meet the goals of a marketing campaign.

2. Decide on a format

Next, decide what kind of flowchart you want to use. If your task list is short, you can use a basic flowchart. You can also create a detailed flowchart that includes many steps or processes in the sequence you plan to perform them. For example, if you're planning a complex marketing project, you can choose a format that allows you to write overarching steps for the project and provide detailed descriptions of each step.

3. Organise the tasks

The next step is to create the flowchart by drawing an oval, which is the beginning point of the diagram. You can then illustrate all subsequent steps one by one. Depict any points of actions and decisions by linking these tasks and actions with arrows. Label each decision point and end your flowchart with another oval.

4. Review the flowchart

Once you have finished drafting a flowchart, review everything to make sure you included all necessary information. During the review process, you may want to add extra steps or new connections. For example, you may identify a step that requires approval from a different department.

5. Identify areas of improvement

You may also choose to seek advice or opinions on how to improve your flow chart. Your coworkers may help you determine if any steps are unnecessary. They may also identify any items that you can simplify or require additional expertise. The more perspectives you have reviewing your flowchart, the more comprehensively you can map out a process.

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