A flowchart is a diagram that represents a workflow, process, system, or computer algorithm. It depicts the separate steps of a process in sequential order. It can be used to document, study, plan, improve, or communicate complex or lengthy processes via a diagram that is clear and easy to understand. A flowchart commonly uses rectangles, ovals, diamonds, or squares to define the steps. These shapes are connected by arrows, which indicate the flow or sequence of the process. Elements that may be incorporated into a flowchart include sequences of actions, materials or services entering or leaving the process, decisions that must be made, the people involved, the time involved, and process measurements. An example of a flowchart is shown below:
General uses of a flowchart include:
- To portray how a process is done
- To study a process for improvement, such as identifying bottlenecks
- To document and analyze a process
- To standardize a process for efficiency and quality
An educator may use a flowchart to plan coursework and academic requirements or show a legal or civil process such as voter registration. A salesperson may use it to chart a sales process or plan research strategies. A manufacturer may use it to denote the physical or chemical makeup of a product. An engineer may use it to assess the life cycle of a structure.
Types of flowchart
While there are an endless number of variations and versions of a flowchart, there are four main types of which all others fall under:
- Process flowchart: A process flowchart is typically the most versatile chart as it can be applied to virtually anything, such as mapping out roles and responsibilities.
- Workflow flowchart: A workflow chart depicts how a business or process functions. It can be used to train new employees or discover potential problem areas within a process.
- Swimlane flowchart: A swimlane flowchart shows how separate departments, processes, or employees interact. This flowchart is different from a workflow chart in that it allows for creation of different categories where activities take place. This chart can be used for illustrating a complete process that interacts with different segments of an organization.
- Data flowchart: A data flowchart portrays the way data flows in and out of an information system. A data flowchart is most often used for software development and design.