The most important things to know when making a flowchart

There are several tools that can make our everyday lives easier. The flowchart is one of them. Here we will explain what a flowchart is, its main advantages and elements, and the tools available to help you create one.

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart is a diagram representing a business process, project, system or even a computer algorithm. It is widely used to make complex tasks simple and transparent.

What are the benefits of creating a flowchart?

Clear visual representation

One of the biggest advantages of the flowchart is, of course, its visuality, the clear representation of tasks. It allows us to summarise the status, sequence and progress of several process steps in a single document. The flowchart allows, for example, a quick and easy overview of a workflow and the definition of the next steps.

Effective coordination

A project managers benefit from the flexibility to move assigned tasks and associated resources around within the flowchart. A well-constructed job flowchart also includes capacity utilisation, so that any changes that may occur can be easily tracked and resource allocation can be quickly adjusted if necessary. The flowchart helps the project manager to see clearly the upcoming tasks that are relevant to the project. 

Communication in one place

The project participants can see the flowchart as a common platform that, if used properly, can even trigger regular meetings. By visualising the progress of the project, team members can always know what they need to do next.

Problem solving

Within the flowchart, a given task can be broken down into several sub-assemblies. This makes it easier to understand a more complex task and, by splitting it up, the main task can be solved more easily. For more complex projects, it is advantageous to decide to create a flowchart already in the brainstorming phase, as the visual representation makes the seemingly endless task list more transparent for us.

Paperless documentation

Flowcharts are now most often created and stored digitally, saving unnecessary paper print rounds.

Key elements and symbols of the flowchart

Whether you want to create a flowchart yourself or are struggling to interpret one, it is essential to be aware of the most basic notations and their meanings. Of course, there are common representation languages that use different notations, but the 5 basic ways are the most common:

1. Oval shape - starting and end points

The oval or ellipse shape marks the beginning or end of the process. Strictly only one of the start symbols may appear in the diagram and only one arrow may start from it. The end symbol can be more than one, but no arrow can exit from it, only enter it.

2. Rectangle - marking the main steps

Once we start the flowchart, the rectangle symbol is the one we most often continue with. It is used to record the main steps, such as the most basic tasks or operations in the process.

3. Arrow - the itinerary

The arrow guides you through the entire flowchart. Although there are many arrow symbols to choose from, we recommend using one or two within a flowchart. This keeps the diagram clear and concise.

4. Rombus - a decision must be made

The diamond is a symbol of decision. It can be used to indicate when you are faced with a simple decision or a more complex one that you need to resolve in order to move forward. Always make sure that all possible decision situations and their possible outcomes are indicated in the diagram.

Flowchart making tips

Whether you create a flowchart on a sheet of paper or online, there are three basic steps to consider:

  • Use a shape for each step of the process.
  • Connect the shapes so that they clearly mark the path of the process.
  • Highlight key steps by adding colours or unique shapes.

In today's world, it is more practical to use an online tool to create a flowchart. As well as being able to share the finished result with others online, it can be edited and extended instantly by several people at once, unlike a paper-based design.
Here are some more tips that may help:
1. Leave enough space
It is important not to compress the shapes, as the figure can easily become opaque. Instead, leave more space, because if you start with an airy design, it will be easier to keep it transparent.
2. Consistent use of markings
A flowchart can consist of many different visual elements, so consistency makes the final result more beautiful. Make sure that shapes, colours, sizes, fonts and arrows are consistent.
3. Don't put everything you can think of on the diagram
The ideal diagram is simple to understand and interpret. To achieve this, organise and keep the information on the diagram clear. Think about which steps are necessary to be included, and anything that is unnecessary can be left out.
4. Ask others for their opinion
Once you have finished drawing the diagram, review it and correct any errors or inconsistencies. It may also be useful to ask a colleague or expert involved in the process to review and interpret the results. 

Although this post covers the basics of process representation, process representation is not always straightforward. In many cases, the very decision to use a floating or vertical flowchart, for example, can be difficult. To achieve the desired result, it is worth considering the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of the diagram, what level of information do we want to convey?
  • Who will the result be for?
  • What experience does the target audience have in reading and interpreting processes?
  • Is it necessary to add any other additional information to the flowchart (e.g. RACI table, related systems, inputs and outputs, etc.)?
  • What is the easiest tool to create and edit with, and how variable is the process?

The representation of processes is only a small part of process management, as there may be a need to optimise, make more efficient or even automate them. If you need help, contact us with confidence!