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Kasey
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What Is a Flow Map?

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The term ’Flow map’ originally comes from cartography. It is a particular combination of maps and flow diagrams, where the width of the arrows is proportional to the flow rate — the so-called Sankey diagrams.

Flow maps are used to portray animal migrations, money flow, the traffic of goods and people, etc. The arrows show direction, while the width illustrates the quantity. If we were to answer the question “What is a flow map?”, we would say it is a handy instrument to show any particular movement because it provides two types of data at the same time — location and volume.

Flow maps are important because they demonstrate the contrast in the quantity of a huge variety of items spread over a vast territory. That provides a robust image of changes in weather and traffic patterns, visuals of historic events and military actions, and so on.

There are several types of flow maps — network, radial, and distribution maps.

Radial Flow Map

Radial maps display connections between a point and numerous directions via divided lines of specified width, resembling spokes. The accurate route here does not matter as much as the general direction, incoming or outcoming. For instance, this network flow map demonstrates the volume of commodities trading:

Map of trade routes
Trade flow map

Distribution Flow Map

Distribution flow maps, like radial maps, only show a schematic path from the object to the destination. They have other structures, though  — flow lines that diverge to destination points. As an example, this flow map illustrates the spread of a disease:

Spread of Disease flow map
Spread of Disease flow map

To build a clear flow map of any type, it is enough to follow these simple principles:

  • Use headed arrows
  • Use larger arrowheads for thin flow lines
  • Make the arrows’ width proportional to flow rate 
  • Arrange flows with nodes
  • Make sure flows and arrowheads don’t overlap

Process Map

There’s a special type of flow map tailored to the creative process. It is called a process map, a flowsheet, or a process flowchart. It shows the set of actions you need in order to reach a particular goal.

Process mapping helps to enhance work efficiency, providing a better understanding of each stage of the process. It is used in manufacturing, management, the provision of services, and digital production. Process mapping highlights areas of potential improvement, and it demonstrates the ideas behind the process to the entire working team — everyone is aware of where to go and what to do. Finally, process maps clear up the document flow and help to build up a working plan.

To create a process map offline, you need to have a board with stickers and do the following:

  1. Define the process that you are mapping. It is a good idea to come up with a title, too 
  2. Find the goals of the process and fix them
  3. Determine the framework of your process: the deadlines and the scale
  4. Make a list of actions needed to achieve the goals of the process
  5. Arrange these actions in the appropriate order
  6. Connect the actions with arrows
  7. Share the process map with your entire team
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