What is a flow chart ?

A flowchart is a visual depiction of a process or system .

Flow charts can be as simple as a diagram drawn with a paper and a pen or as complex as a computer generated complex diagram.

Flowcharts are also known as process flowcharts, process maps, business process maps, business process modeling and notation (BPMN) and process flow diagrams.

How do you draw a flow chart ?

There are some tips that would help you navigate the artistic and analytical technique which is “flowcharting” and they are:

  1. Start with a swim lane – A swim lane represents the organization as a whole. Every organization should have a single swimlane and if the process involves two or more organizations, you should draw individual swimlanes for each of them.
  2. Add a process name : a good process name has a noun + verb e.g. Sales Order Process (Sales is the noun, Order is the Verb) and it should end with the word “Process”
  3. Start slow : It would take time and practice for you to familiarise yourself with the tool, so relax and if you have any questions just google it.

Now that you have a few tips for success, you need to know what the common flowchart symbols mean to get started on your flowchart.

Common Visio diagram symbols and their meanings:

Start/End: This is used to indicates the beginning or end of the process. It is used for the first and last step of your process.

Process: This is used to indicates an action that is being performed in the process e.g. an end user logging in to an application.

Decision: This shape indicates that a decision has to be made and based on that decision made there could be multiple outcomes. E.g. an approver needs to approve a request, the possible outcomes could be approve, reject or amend.

Alternate Process: This is used to indicate exceptions to the standard process or “happy line”. A standard process is what we would like the process to do, but in situations where something else happens the alternate process would be used. Flow lines into an alternate process flow step are typically dashed.

Sub Process: This is used to indicate that there is another process that is being performed outside the process. E.g. in the sales order process, in order to process the sale the system would have a payment verification process that would be automatically performed by the application.

Document: This shape represents a step that results in a document creation.

Data: This shape indicates that information is coming into the process from an external data source.

Or: The logical Or symbol shows when a process splits into two or more branches. When using this symbol, it is important to label the outgoing flow lines to indicate the criteria to follow each branch.

Summing Junction: The logical Summing Junction flowchart shape is used to show when multiple branches merge into a single process.

Preparation: This indicates a pre-step in the process such as a set-up operation.

Delay: This indicates that there is a delay in the process caused by an event such as awaiting delivery of some good and services. Delay flowchart symbol represents any waiting period that is part of a process.

On-page reference: This is used to represent connections between processes. For example in large flowcharts you might have to stop at a point and continue on the next page because it is too big for a single page. Ideally though, these sort of processes should be broken down into smaller processes.

Off-page reference: This is used to link two processes together using hyperlinks. When you use this shape, a dialog box is displayed where you can create a set of hyperlinks between two pages of a flowchart or between a sub-process shape and a separate flowchart page that shows the steps in that sub-process.

Merge /Storage Flowchart: This indicates that multiple processes have been merged into a single one. It is commonly used in the storage of raw materials.

Extract /Measurement Flowchart: This is used to indicate into parallel paths. Also commonly indicates a Measurement, with a capital ‘M’ inside the symbol. It commonly indicates storage of finished goods.

Here is an example of a Sales Process Flowchart

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