What is a Flowchart?

What is a Flowchart?

27 Dec 2023

A Flowchart stands as an indispensable tool in the world of information representation. Whether outlining a straightforward algorithm in an academic setting or illustrating intricate technological processes, a flowchart facilitates seamless visualization, simplifying documentation and sharing processes.

In this blog, we will dig into the fundamentals of a flowchart, different types of flowcharts, the array of tools available for flowchart creation, and check out some inspiring examples.

What is a Flowchart?

A Flowchart is a diagram that visually represents a process or an algorithm in a sequential or a chronological order. A Flowchart uses defined flow chart shapes to depict each step of the process and connectors to achieve the uniform representation worldwide.

Other ways people refer to flowcharts include flow chart, process flowchart, functional flowchart, process map, process chart, functional process chart, business process model, process model, process flow diagram, work flow diagram, and business flow diagram.

Here is an example of a simple flowchart:

What is a Flowchart used for?

A Flowchart is used for designing or/and documenting a process, workflow or an algorithm. A flowchart effectively captures every step of the process, including the decision making process and the various branching involved. A flowchart is very efficient in depicting complex processes in a simplified manner improving understandability and thereby is immensely used in various fields by both technical and nontechnical people. Its applications extend to education, research, software diagramming, and organizational process mappings etc.,, highlighting its versatile utility.

Flowcharts are particularly useful for collaborative design efforts, enabling effective communication and information transfer to larger groups or incorporation into Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

History of Flowcharts

The "flow process chart," the initial structured method for documenting process flow, was introduced by Frank and Lillian Gilbreth in 1921. Their tools gained prominence in industrial engineering curricula, and in the 1930s, Allan H. Mogensen began training business professionals in industrial engineering tools. Art Spinanger, a Mogensen graduate, applied these tools at Procter and Gamble, developing the Deliberate Methods Change Program. ASME adopted a symbol set from Gilbreth's work in 1947. In 1949, Douglas Hartree noted that Goldstine and von Neumann had used a flowchart to plan computer programs. Although the flowchart's popularity declined in the 1970s due to new programming tools, it continued to describe computer algorithms into the 21st century. Modern techniques like UML activity diagrams and Drakon-charts can be seen as extensions of the classic flowchart.

Types of Flowchart

Flowcharts can be of different types based on their purpose and complexity. Here are some of the commonly used flowcharts based on its application along with some example flowcharts.

Process Flowcharts

Process Flowcharts illustrates the sequence of steps and activities involved in a process. It provides a clear and detailed overview of how a particular task or system works, from the beginning to the end. Process flowcharts are widely used in various industries, including manufacturing, business processes, software development, and more.

Architecture Diagrams

An architectural diagram serves as a visual representation encapsulating all the integral elements that collectively constitute a segment or the entirety of a system. Its principal objective is to enhance understanding for engineers, designers, stakeholders, and all involved participants in the project. They can be further specialized as cloud architecture diagrams, network architecture diagrams, software architecture diagrams, etc.

User Flow Diagrams

A user flow diagram is a chart or diagram illustrating the steps a user takes within an application to complete a task. These visual representations are valuable tools for modeling and understanding the interactions that users have with a software.

Data Flow Diagrams (DFD)

A Data Flow Diagram (DFD) is a graphical representation that illustrates how data moves through a system, emphasizing the flow of information and processes. DFDs are commonly used in system analysis and design to visualize and describe the data processing within a system. They are a part of structured analysis and design methods and are valuable tools for understanding, modeling, and communicating complex systems.

Swimlane Flowcharts

A Swimlane Flowchart is a type of process flowchart that organizes information based on the responsible or accountable parties involved in each step of a process. The term "swimlane" refers to the visual division of the flowchart into parallel lanes, each representing a specific participant, department, or functional area within an organization. Swimlane flowcharts are particularly useful for illustrating and understanding the interactions and responsibilities across different entities in a process.

Workflow Diagrams

A workflow diagram illustrates the sequence of steps, tasks, or activities involved in a process or workflow. It provides a clear and detailed overview of how work progresses from initiation to completion, including the interactions between different components, participants, or systems.

System Flowcharts

A system flowchart is a visual representation that illustrates the sequence of operations or processes within a system. This type of flowchart focuses on the flow of data and control between various components of a system, providing a detailed overview of how information is processed, stored, and transferred.

Document Flowcharts

A document flowchart illustrates the flow of documents or information within a system or a specific business process. This type of flowchart is designed to show how documents move through various stages, departments, or individuals within an organization. Document flowcharts are particularly useful for analyzing, documenting, and improving processes related to the handling of paperwork, forms, or electronic documents.

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) Diagrams

Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) is a standard graphical notation for representing business processes in a visual and easily understandable manner. BPMN diagrams provide a standardized way to model and document business processes, making them accessible to both technical and non-technical stakeholders. BPMN is widely used in business process management (BPM) and system analysis.

Hierarchy Flowcharts

A hierarchy flowchart, also known as an organizational chart or hierarchy chart, represents the structure and relationships within an organization or a specific system. It illustrates the hierarchy of different levels of entities, such as departments, roles, or individuals, and their relationships to one another. The chart typically uses a tree-like structure to showcase the levels of authority and reporting relationships.

Mind Maps

Mind map is a diagram that visually outlines information using branches, colors, keywords, and images to represent relationships between different concepts. Mind maps are commonly used for brainstorming, note-taking, problem-solving, and organizing thoughts in a creative and non-linear way.

Audit Flowcharts

Audit flowcharts are widely employed in internal and external auditing, compliance audits, financial audits, and other types of audit activities. They contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the audit process by providing a clear and standardized representation of the steps involved.

Flowchart Symbols

When you closely look at different flowcharts, you'll notice they're made up of blocks with a bunch of shapes and symbols. These shapes follow the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards to keep things uniform and set a standard in flowcharting. It's like a simple language for drawing out different steps or actions in a flowchart. Each shape means something specific and is used to show a different activity. Like, if you see an oval, it represents a terminal - the start or stop of any process or sequence.

Here's a quick look at the basic flowchart symbols and their meanings.

  1. Rectangle - Indicates processing such as data transformation, logical operations etc.
  2. Parallelogram - Indicates input or output operation. This can be used regardless of media, format or equipment.
  3. Flowlines - arrows connecting different shapes to indicate the flow direction.
  4. Annotation - offers a means to provide descriptive information, comments, or notes for a specific block/shape.

How to create a Flowchart

Creating a flowchart is very simple. It can be done even using a Word document or you can use a specialized Flowchart maker application like the MockFlow Flowchart Maker, which is free and is available online. Using a Flowchart maker gives you the advantages of having ready-to-use flowchart shapes and symbols, connector flowlines, etc which will save you a lot of time and effort.

The flowcharting process can be done in 3 steps:

  1. Gather information: You need to know the primary goal or the topic for which you are creating the flowchart and also the details of each steps that go into that workflow.
  2. Draw the flowchart blocks: Flowcharts are generally drawn top-to-bottom or left-to-right. Identify the steps sequentially and choose the appropriate flowchart symbol for each step. Add text to describe each step inside the flowchart shape.
  3. Connect the Flowchart blocks with flow lines: Use the flowchart connector to connect the sequential blocks and use the arrow head in the correct direction to indicate the process flow. . Ensure to add labels to the connectors, especially for decision symbols outward connectors.

Tips for creating the best flowcharts:

  1. Style your Flowchart: Make your flowcharts look more appealing by styling the blocks with colours, add containers to indicate sub-processes, etc.
  2. Use different types of connectors: Use dotted/ solid connectors to differentiate optional and required process flows.
  3. Keep the flowchart simple: If you are diagramming a very complex process or workflow, consider breaking it into sub-processes and creating separate flowcharts for each and finally inter-connect them with connectors to create interactive flowcharts.

Here is an example video that shows how to create an organization chart using MockFlow flowchart maker.

In conclusion, flowcharts are remarkably simple yet highly effective method for designing and documenting processes and workflows. They serve as invaluable tools in streamlining processes and enhancing overall efficiency. If you are in need of creating a flowchart, then sign up for MockFlow—an exceptional platform that allows you to craft flowcharts rapidly and at no cost. Elevate your process documentation and communication with MockFlow!