What Is Workflow Diagramming? (With Benefits and Steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published June 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

It can be beneficial to have a visual representation of the steps involved in a project. Workflow diagrams provide you with an overview of company processes by showing how teams complete projects and tasks. By knowing more about workflow diagramming, you can create effective diagrams that help all team members and company leaders understand your work process.

In this article, we discuss the definition of workflow diagrams, review who can use these diagrams, identify the benefits of workflow diagrams, explore when to use one, identify the symbols, components and tools usually involved, review the different types, and examine how to create these diagrams.

What is workflow diagramming?

Workflow diagramming refers to the visual representation of a company's processes, otherwise called a workflow. You can typically create the workflow diagram in a flowchart, which uses standardized symbols to describe every step in the process. You may also consider it beneficial to use a flowchart to list the professionals involved in every task or step of a project or process. Workflow diagrams provide an overview of the dispersion of company resources among team members and tasks. They may be the template or beginning documents for more in-depth niche business processes.

Who can use workflow diagrams?

Professionals in the manufacturing industry often use workflow diagrams to understand the creation of company products. Additional industries or professions also use these diagrams, like app development, content marketing, eCommerce, medicine, and education. Any company that allocates resources among team members or that wants to develop an understanding of organizational operations can benefit from using workflow diagramming.

What are the benefits of using workflow diagrams?

The benefits of workflow diagrams differ depending on specific project needs and processes. Some companies benefit from the ability to conduct detailed analyses of workflows. Alternatively, other companies can provide better customer service and provide employees with a process guide by using a workflow diagram.

Related: How to Write an Analysis (With Importance and Tips)

When to use a workflow diagram

Here's a list of scenarios in which you can use a workflow diagram:

Process analysis

You can use workflow diagrams to identify areas for improvement within processes. This allows you to develop a stronger understanding of the workflow through visual documents, which you can consult at any time. This is especially beneficial when you're in the hiring process because you can determine where you can assign additional team members, depending on available resources and unoccupied roles. Here are improvements you can experience through the process analysis:

  • Addition of employees

  • Addition of materials or other resources

  • Changes in efficiency

  • Decrease in production time

  • Process instruction

Tracking and management

Using a workflow diagram can help you track a process in real-time. This can help determine if you can fulfil your deadlines or if there are any delays within the system. It can also identify areas that may require more attention to improve staffing or efficiency.

Related: 13 Best Practices to Impress an Applicant Tracking System

What do the symbols in a workflow diagram mean?

The symbols used in a workflow diagram can have different meanings depending on your priorities and the strategies you use to represent workflows. Here are several common symbols used in workflow diagrams:

  • Arrow: connects steps or processes to show the direction of a workflow

  • Circle: indicates a connection between one section in a workflow and another, where you move throughout the document in a nonlinear method

  • Diamond: indicates a decision or approval step

  • Oval: indicates the start or end step in a process

  • Rectangle: indicates a process or action that an employee takes within the workflow

What are the components of a workflow diagram?

Here are several components of workflow diagrams:

  • Input: This is an item that affects the next step in the process and can include actions, equipment, decisions, additional information, or capital.

  • Transformation: This is the conversion that occurs when you input information into the workflow, like a change in physical appearance, location, ownership, or purpose.

  • Output: The last stage of the workflow includes information about the steps that follow a transformation.

What tools can you use to create a workflow diagram?

You can typically develop a workflow diagram with traditional methods used for visual charts and drawing. To choose the tools and strategies for workflow diagrams, it's beneficial to identify the process you want to visualize and to start by drawing the workflow on paper first. Here are some common methods for creating a workflow diagram:

  • Flowchart software

  • Pen and paper

  • Workflow management software

What are the types of workflow diagrams?

Here are several types of workflow diagrams to consider, depending on your needs and goals:

  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI) diagram: This workflow diagram uses a standard set of symbols and common languages to describe the different steps involved in a workflow.

  • Business process modelling notation (BPMN) diagram: This method for flowchart creation uses specialized symbols, like clock icons, to improve the accessibility of information in flowcharts. This can help professionals in other departments understand the flowchart.

  • Geographic flowchart: Companies or departments in logistics and warehousing often use these flowcharts to demonstrate an object's placement in a process in comparison to labourers.

  • Integration Definition (IDEF) diagram: This is a graphic representation of a process simulation used in engineering applications.

  • SIPOC diagram: This is an acronym for suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs, and customers, and it shows the most important aspects of a workflow instead of the order of steps within a process.

  • Structured Systems Design (SSD) diagram: This is a process-oriented document that takes larger, more complex processes and reduces them to manageable functions or modules.

  • Swimlane diagram: This shows the workflow process in chronological order, and separates departments by using columns.

  • Unified Modeling Language (UML) flowchart: UML flowcharts show the order of steps in a process and the flow of control in a graphic representation.

How to create a workflow diagram

Here's a step-by-step guide to help you develop your workflow diagram:

1. Choose a process

You can begin creating a diagram for workflow by choosing the purpose of the diagram. This can help you choose the information you want to research, and which information you want to include in the workflow map. Some processes require more specific steps, while others only require a list of roles and responsibilities. You may want to define where the processes start and end to identify the information required between both points.

It's also beneficial to assign your diagram a clear, identifiable name. This can be particularly helpful if you create multiple workflow diagrams for different processes because those who review the workflows can identify different files more easily.

2. Identify your audience

You can choose and analyze your target audience to obtain the information they're interested in for the development of the diagram. If you create a client-facing map, you may want to remove sensitive information about the company to help maintain confidentiality. If you develop the map for a team, you can create one that's more detailed because the audience is more likely to understand the company's internal processes. You can often include confidential information in team-focused workflows.

3. Collect information

To collect information for the workflow diagram, it's beneficial to meet with your team, supervisors, clients, and representatives from other departments. This provides you with more information about the company's internal processes and helps you identify the information you didn't previously know. This also provides you with the opportunity to learn about other viewpoints and perceptions when creating the workflow. Here are some aspects to consider when creating the workflow:

  • Delays, improvements, or bottlenecks within a process

  • Deviations within a process

  • People, teams, or departments that are in charge of certain activities or tasks

  • Tasks involved during each step of a process

  • Timeline of a process

4. Design the workflow

Designing the workflow involves a review of the research you previously completed. This allows you to establish and describe the process accurately by writing it on paper or digital aids. This workflow design doesn't consider additional changes, and often has the label of an "as-is process."

Related: Top 9 Workflow Management Software (With Benefits)

5. Make improvements

You may want to review the process and determine if there are areas in which you can make changes to improve communication or productivity. You can identify areas in the process that can benefit from an automation process, or recommend cost-saving applications. Here are some additional improvements to consider:

  • Areas with bottlenecks

  • Effects of the most important activities in the process on the end result

  • Items that might cause delays in deadlines

  • Steps to eliminate

  • Steps to restructure or move within the process

  • Time to complete each step

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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