What is a Flowchart?

Flow-charting is a tool developed in the computer industry, for showing the steps involved in a process. A flowchart is a diagram made up of boxes, diamonds and other shapes, connected by arrows - each shape represents a step in the process, and the arrows show the order in which they occur. Flow-charting combines symbols and flow lines, to show figuratively the operation of an algorithm.

In computing, there are dozens of different symbols used in flow-charting (there are even national and international flow-charting symbol standards). In business process analysis, a couple of symbols are sufficient. A box with text inside indicates a step in the process, while a diamond with text represents a decision point. See the figure for an example.

If the flowchart is too messy to draw, try starting again, but leaving out all of the decision points and concentrating on the simplest possible course. Then the session can go back and add the decision points later. It may also be useful to start by drawing a high-level flowchart for the whole organization, with each box being a complete process that has to be filled out later.

From this common understanding can come a number of things - process improvement ideas will often arise spontaneously during a flow-charting session. And after the session, the facilitator can also draw up a written procedure - a flow-charting session is a good way of documenting a process.

Process improvement starts with an understanding of the process, and flow-charting is the first step towards process understanding.


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