How to Create Flowcharts: Definition, Types, and Steps

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 4, 2022

Individuals use flowcharts in a number of different industries to help visualize information and processes. There are several types of flowcharts, including those that show relationships, workflows, and data. Learning how to create a flowchart may help you improve productivity, collaborate with team members, and identify areas for improvement. In this article, we define what a flowchart is, list the types of flowcharts, and outline the steps to create one.

What is a flowchart?

Before learning how to create flowcharts, it's important to understand what a flowchart is. A flowchart is a type of diagram that's used to show each part of a process. Individuals use flowcharts to make visualizing a process easier, which can improve workflow and productivity. Typically, you depict each step in the process with a symbol and a brief description, with arrows showing the sequence of steps.

You can use flowcharts for simple processes, such as to show the flow of making a sale to a customer, to more complex processes that involve different branches and decision points, such as those used when developing software. Symbols that are commonly used in flowcharts include:

  • Oval: shows the start and end of a process

  • Rectangle: shows each step in a process

  • Diamond: shows a decision-making process

  • Circle: shows a jump in the process

  • Parallelogram: shows data input or output in the process

How to create flowcharts

You can use the following steps to learn how to create flowcharts:

1. Determine what elements to include

Before you create your flowchart, determine what elements you want to include. These elements can include steps and deadlines for a particular project to outline the process, decision steps, documentation, and data. Choose only the most important elements to help ensure the flowchart easy to read. Once you've determined the elements, you can organize them by element or by chronological order, based on what's most important to your project.

2. Select a method for creating your flowchart

There are several methods that you can use to create a flowchart. The most simple is pen and paper, which works well for more simple flowcharts, or when creating and discussing flowcharts in meetings. If you're creating a more complex or frequently used flowchart, you may want to choose a software program to create it.

You can create flowcharts in a word processor or by using more specialized software that offers additional features like different shapes, pre-made templates, drag-and-drop processes, and methods for collaboration. Choose the method that works best for your project's type and complexity, as well as your budget.

Related: Top 9 Workflow Management Software (With Benefits)

3. Choose a flowchart template

There are different flowchart templates that you may choose from depending on the purpose of your project. Choosing the right flowchart can ensure that your flowchart is easy to understand. Types of templates you may choose for your flowchart include:

Basic flowchart

A basic flowchart includes a starting point, two possible outcomes, and the results of each. Individuals commonly use this type of flowchart in A/B testing because it can easily show the two different paths that an individual may take. For example, when an individual subscribes to a company's newsletter, the e-mail marketing team may use a basic flowchart to determine which e-mail to send a subscriber, based on whether they opened the initial e-mail.

Swim lane flowchart

Swim lane flowcharts show different flows of steps, allowing you to arrange these flows side-by-side on the chart. These rows can then depict different departments or categories of tasks that are required to complete a process. For example, in manufacturing, a swim lane flowchart may be used to outline the steps involved in assembling and testing a product, with interactions to show when quality control methods are being used.

Task flowchart

Task flowcharts show each task that is necessary to complete a certain goal. Individuals may use this type of flowchart in business in order to provide a visual of the steps that are necessary, as well as who is responsible for each task. Most industries can benefit from using this type of flowchart.

Complex flowchart

Individuals use complex flowcharts when there might be multiple starting steps that lead to the same goal. For example, an individual may use a complex flowchart when applying for an internship. Starting points might include Research internships, Speaking with mentors, or Writing your resume. Each of these starting points can then have steps listed beneath them, leading to the result of applying for an internship.

Linear flowchart

Linear flowcharts show a sequence of steps that lead to the desired outcome. It differs from a task flowchart in that different steps may lead to the desired outcome. For example, if a salesperson is working on making a sale, then they may make this sale on the initial outreach, which can lead them to the desired outcome of the sale. Otherwise, they may continue through the linear flowchart, working through steps like an initial follow-up, until they reach the desired outcome.

Organizational flowchart

An organizational flowchart shows the hierarchy in a company or organization. In this flowchart, you may start with the person who has the most authority in the company, such as the CEO or owner at the top, followed by different employees listed below. You might then separate the employees into different departments, with the team leader or supervisor at the top, and the rest of the team listed below.

4. Add information to the flowchart

Using the standard flowchart symbols, you can add your decided-upon elements to the flowchart. If you choose to use a flowchart program with pre-made templates, the program may have already generated the symbols, meaning that you can easily add your processes or data. Using the standard flowchart symbols and designs can help ensure that your flowchart is easy for others to understand.

5. Review for accuracy and possible improvements

Once you have finished creating your flowchart, take a moment to review it for accuracy. You can do this by ensuring that you're using each symbol correctly and that you've listed each step logically. You may also want to examine your flowchart for possible areas of improvement. For example, you can check to see if any steps are repetitive.

You may also assess each step to see if you think they're too complex and can separate into simpler steps. This can help to improve efficiency and make your flowcharts easier to understand when collaborating with others or presenting them in meetings.

Who uses flowcharts?

Professionals in many industries use flowcharts, including business, technology, and science. In technology, a software developer may use a flowchart in order to provide a visual representation of the coding system and the testing that needs to take place. They can then share this flowchart with the rest of the team so that the entire team is following the same process for developing software. In other industries, such as business, individuals may use flowcharts to outline organizational processes and procedures.

For example, a marketing team may use a flowchart to depict the process of their social media team, including sourcing content, proofing content, and posting content. This flowchart may help the team understand the order of each step. Flowcharts can help with project management by providing a visual of the steps and the order they occur in, but they can also show how a product works. Flowcharts can also help with visualizing data, making it easier to understand and improving the decision-making process.

Related: 8 Types of Project Charts for Effective Project Management

Types of flowcharts

There are three main types of flowcharts that are commonly used in the workplace. These include:

Process flow diagram

A process flow diagram is a commonly used flowchart that shows the relationship between components or processes. In the workplace, individuals may use a process flow diagram to outline a new process or visualize an old one and take steps to improve it. Depending on the processes that they're outlining, process flow diagrams can be simple or complex.

Related: Integrating a Process Mapping Template (9 Key Maps to Know)

Workflow diagram

A workflow diagram shows the process of steps, as well as the responsibilities of all individuals involved. It outlines the tasks to show a step-by-step process to complete the project. Individuals can use a workflow diagram to guide them through their work and tasks, analyze the steps in the process, and take measures to improve the process or show which individuals or departments handle each task. The workflow diagram can be useful in several industries, including manufacturing, finance and business, and technology.

Data flow diagram

A data flow diagram shows the steps that information takes in a process. You can use it to help you visualize data, which can be useful when working to improve processes or implement new systems. Data flow diagrams can also make it easier to identify problems and areas where companies may improve their efficiency. This type of flowchart is most commonly used in business, technology, and engineering industries.

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