Skill level: Intermediate
Flow charts are used in designing and documenting processes. Like other types of diagrams, they help the viewer visualize and understand a process and potentially discover flaws, bottlenecks, and other less-obvious issues within it.
There are many different types of flow charts, each with its own collection of boxes and notational conventions. The two most common types of boxes in a flow chart are a processing step, usually called activity and denoted as a rectangular box, and a decision, usually denoted as a diamond.
A flow chart is described as “cross-functional” when the page is divided into “swim lanes” describing the control of different organizational units. A symbol appearing in a particular “lane” is within the control of that organizational unit. This technique allows the author to locate the responsibility for performing an action or making a decision correctly, showing the responsibility of each organizational unit for different parts of a single process.
- Visual representation of the process or issue under study
- Easily created using simple applications or by hand
- Involves teamwork and uses people knowledge to document the flow chart
- Applicable to all aspects of an organization
How to Use
- Step 1. Assemble a team of people with knowledge of the process. The scope must be defined prior to starting the mapping: Where does the process start and where does it finish?
- Step 2. Starting at the beginning of the process, document the steps in sequence from start to finish.
- Step 3. Add all the different loops that are within or between the different processes.
- Step 4. Connect the boxes (activities) and decision points.
- Step 5. Validate the final map with the team and management.
Common alternate names include: flow chart, process flow chart, functional flow chart, process map, process chart, functional process chart, business process model, process model, process flow diagram, work flow diagram, and business flow diagram.
An organization specializing in printing multi-color brochures for small businesses has realized that as the number of orders increases, its lead time starts to creep upwards and promised delivery dates are not met on a regular basis.
To understand the process and identify actions to fix the issue, an improvement team decides to map the process. Because several departments are involved, the team uses swim lanes. The map below shows the different activities and the responsible departments.
The process map makes it obvious that there is too much back and forth between the sales and graphic design departments, causing huge delays.