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What Is a Flowchart?

Flowcharts have evolved from simple schemes to complex and well-designed structures. Let’s discover what the process of evolution was like and what we have now. What’s more, you’ll learn the basics of designing flowcharts, tips, and best practices to avoid mistakes. 

What Is a Flowchart

Flowchart or process flow diagram (PFD) is a graphic representation of a process, algorithm, or structure. For example, logic sequence, organization chart, manufacturing process or any formalized structure. 

 

Flowcharts are used to make complex things look simpler, as well as showing readers a reference point when working with a process or project which can be depicted in a flow diagram. Commonly, flowcharts are made of geometric shapes and arrows. People often call these schemes process maps, process charts, business process models, functional flowcharts.

 

Flowchart symbols

 

History of Flowcharts

Process flowchart shows data flows origins back in 1921. Lilian and Frank Gilberth, engineers, revealed their flow process chart to ASME (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers). Later, in the 1930s, Allan Morgensen, an industrial engineer, used Gilberths’ chart to increase the efficiency of his company. In the 1940s, Allan’s students Ben Graham and Art Spinanger enhanced this method in industrial and information technologies spheres. In 1947, 26 years from the creation date, ASME officially approved the use of Gilberths’ flow process chart and its symbol system.

 

Of course, process diagrams have greatly changed since those times. In the late 1940s, IT specialists John Van Neumann and Herman Goldstine used them for computer programming. This was the start point for the vast implementation of flow charts in creating and representing machine algorithms. Finally, flowcharts have become as important for all kinds of industries as histograms, cause-and-effect diagrams and check sheets.

 

Flowchart Symbols

There’s a great variety of shapes and symbols used for creating flow diagrams. The basic four flow chart symbols are:

 

  • The Terminator (the Oval). It represents a beginning and an end.
  • The Rectangle. It depicts each new step in a diagram.
  • The Arrow. It helps show the flow of the process.
  • The Diamond (the Rhombus). It means a decision.

 

Discover more details about special and non-basic shapes in answer to the question “How to Make a Flowchart”.

Flowchart symbols
Flowchart symbols

 

Why Do We Need Flowcharts 

Historically, people used to make the most of flow diagrams in engineering and programming. Although, these schemes are extremely helpful in other fields for: 

 

  • Documenting or analyzing both strategic and tactical business processes.
  • Standardizing processes.
  • Conveying the sense of any process to the staff, which is especially useful for newcomers.
  • Identifying strong and weak points of a company and improving any organizational processes.
  • Designing systems and programs.

 

Which industries use flowcharts the most efficiently?

 

  • Information technologies.
  • Manufacturing.
  • Education.
  • Sales and marketing.
  • Management 

 

According to the FlowMapp experience, flowcharts are most often come in handy for:

 

  1. Teams working together on complex business processes.
  2. Product designers who visualize the structure and hierarchy of products.
  3. UX strategists who research and develop user flows on sites.
  4. Project managers who need to look at the processes from a bird’s-eye perspective.
  5. Developers of products and websites who need to build sitemaps and represent data flows.
  6. Copywriters who need to depict tons of text in a couple of shapes for sharing it with clients or colleagues from other departments.
  7. Sales managers who use flow diagrams for communicating with customers and increasing sales.
  8. Freelancers of all kinds involved in different business activities.

 

Actually, there are no limits to flowchart usage. Even if you have a small local business, you can fit your entire business plan for showing it to others. For example, it’s a great idea when demonstrating your project map to potential investors.

Flowchart Types

Let’s connect the dots between different types of flowcharts to see how you can implement them:

 

  • Process flow diagrams — for any business flow.
  • Swimlane flowcharts — for complex projects with several teams or simultaneous processes involved.
  • Workflow diagrams for any kind of organization.
  • Influence schemes — for depicting how one variable might influence anticipated outcomes.
  • Data flow diagrams — for showing how data works within a system.
  • Decision maps — for demonstrating all possible decisions for an issue.

 

These are commonly used types of flow maps. You can combine them or create a custom flow diagram.

How to Plan and Create a Basic Flowchart

We are sure you already have an idea with approximate steps in your head. Let’s depict it in graphics step by step:

 

  1. Identify the process for mapping. Name your flowchart document.
  2. Set boundaries for your process map. When should it end? How many steps are needed? What will be the decisions and outcomes? How detailed will it be? Your flowchart can consist of many details or provide just a general overview of the process.
  3. Start and end with a terminator. Describe a trigger event first.
  4. Continue with steps that come after that event. Describe them briefly and clearly.
  5. Think of decisions and further steps. If there are too many of them, identify 2-3 most important ones.
  6. Add cross-references to additional information. If your flowchart involves additional information, add lists, catalogs, supportive flow maps to it.
  7. End your flowchart with a terminator. Once the entire process is described, put an oval to its end.
  8. Collect feedback from colleagues. Make sure it’s understandable and easy to perceive. Fix issues, if there are some. Voila! Your flowchart is ready!

Main Flowchart Tools

Here are the main tools for creating process diagrams:

 

  • Word. The world’s most commonly used text processor. It’s convenient for strong Word users, but might be difficult for newbies.
  • Excel. Spreadsheets are not the most popular way to design flowcharts, still, if you like this tool, try it!
  • Powerpoint. Designed for creating presentations, this program can be your assistant in making flow diagrams. Still, it is not the most convenient tool.
  • Google Docs. Similar to Word, this text processing app can be your helper in creating flowcharts.
  • FlowMapp. Professional and affordable tool for designing clear and concise user flows, customer journey maps (CJMs), sitemaps, personas, and other flowchart types. Try it for free for one project and feel the power of the expert-level app! We simplify your work, you focus only on your business goals.

 

Main Tips to Draw an Effective Flowchart

Let’s enhance your flow schemes with these additional tips:

 

  1. Keep an Eye on the Size. One-page diagrams work the best. If your concept is too complex, try looking at it from a high-level perspective. Add details by linking to more low-level flowcharts describing every process.
  2. Be Consistent. Use shapes of the same size and be attentive with spacing. Align all the objects. Use a single flow direction. This will make the flow diagram easier to perceive.
  3. Illustrate Your Examples. Don’t hesitate to add symbols, icons, and images to depict important start or end points.
  4. Design Reasonably. Select a limited color palette. 3-4 colors are enough. Otherwise, the variety of marking methods will only distract readers from the main idea. Borders have the same story. Do you need them for every shape? Try removing them — lightweight shapes will look simply and attractively.
  5. Set Accents. Mark important steps with a larger text size or a bold font. Also, try changing the thickness of borders. Still, be careful with changing the scale of shapes — sometimes, this can only harm.

Flowchart Examples

Look at these examples to check how the flowchart process should look like. A concept of user flow is a flowchart of a high-level perspective. See how they describe complex processes in a couple of shapes:

 

Ideal User Flow

 

The whole story of ordering a product via an eCommerce website is depicted in a simple map:

 

Order process Flowchart

 

Here’s a brilliant example of mapping the functionality of a content cloud service:

 

Content cloud service mapping
Content cloud service mapping

Key Takeaways

We hope you’ve found the sole answer to the question: what is a flowchart? With this short intro and the knowledge of basic flowchart types and principles, you can proceed further. Sign up for free and try to create your first well-designed flowchart. Make it simple and efficient with FlowMapp!

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