Flowcharting Help Page (Tutorial) 


by Dexter A. Hansen

This site is a basic tutorial on making flowcharts provided for those trying to implement an ISO 9000 Quality System Standard, COSO Framework or Total Quality Management (TQM) Quality System, but lack the funds in the budget to attend an expensive flowchart training seminar.  



FLOWCHARTING


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Definition:   Flowcharting is a graphical representation of the sequence of all operations, movements, inspections (a.k.a. approvals), delays, decisions and storage activities of a process.

Flow charting uses symbols that have been in use for a number of years to represent the type of operations and/or processes being performed. The standardized format provides a common method for people to visualize problems together in the same manner. The use of standardized symbols makes the flow charts easier to interpret, however, standardizing symbols is not as important as the sequence of activities that make up the process.



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Uses of Flowcharts

  • Documents process and interrelationship of process steps

  • Identifies actual and ideal paths that any product or process flows

  • Can identify problems and potential improvements

  • Can be completed on entire processes assemblies with all components, one person or component through a process, combinations of people and machines, transactions following forms or other documents, etc.

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Flowcharting Areas of Focus

  • Labor Intensive Processes

  • Delays

  • Review Cycles

  • Paperwork

  • Duplications

  • Omissions

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Basic Types of Flow Charts

Functional Chart - A chart that is used to describe how activities interact with one another within an organization as well as with other organization and/or systems.

Process Flow Chart - A chart that is used to describe the sequence and relationship of the tasks that make up an activity.

Process Flow Description Chart - A detailed description of the tasks outlined in a Process Flow Chart. Typically used to show the kinds of tasks performed within a process; the number of operations, review, and transfers; and the amount of storage and time required to complete an activity.

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Flowcharting Tips

  • Chart the process the way it is really occurring. Do not document the way a written process or a manager thinks the process happens.

    People typically modify existing processes to enable a more efficient process. If the desired or theoretical process is charted, problems with the existing process will not be recognized and no improvements can be made.

  • Note all circumstances actually dealt with.

    If the operations described on the chart don't happen as charted all the time, note the exceptions on the chart. i.e. Is the part or report generated in the process always available when needed or is there sometimes a delay?

  • Important assumptions and details should be noted on flow charts such as special training or assumed knowledge, special procedural requirements, time limitations, etc. to ensure awareness of all these issues when analyzing a process for changes.

  • Where process improvements are time-based, collect data on the "standard" or "typical" time it takes for each step in the process and note each time on the flow chart at each step. The time information can be used to set priorities for time reduction efforts so that the largest contributors to the overall cycle time are more easily recognized. This same tip can be applied to other measures such as complaints, costs, defects, etc.

  • Test the flow chart by trying to follow the chart to perform the process charted. If there is a problem performing the operation as charted, note any differences and modify the chart to correct. A better approach would be to have someone unfamiliar with the process try to follow the flow chart and note questions or problems found.

  • Include mental steps in the process such as decisions. These steps are sometimes left out because of familiarity with the process, however, represent sources of problems due to a possible lack of training or information used to make the decision can be inadequate or incorrect if performed by a different person.

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Process Flow Charting Basic Symbols
For purposes of this table, only the most useful basic symbols used for industrial engineering and process writing are covered in this area.  If using a software package, there are a multitude of templates that are used to flow chart and depending upon the quality of the package, the quantity of symbols should also increase.

Symbols Definitions
Operation Operation - An operation occurs when an object (i.e. product, document, etc.) is intentionally changed in any of its physical or chemical characteristics, assembled or disassembled from another object, or staged for another operation, transportation, inspection or storage. Operations also occur when information is transmitted or received or when planning or calculations take place.
Manual Operation Manual Operation - Is sometimes used to denote operations that are done manually.
Inspect  Inspection, Verification or Measurement - An inspection, verification or measurement happens when an object is examined for identification or is verified for quality or quantity in any of its characteristics. The symbol also indicates that a decision must be made.
Decision Decision Making/Approval - The diamond, typically used for document or software processes, also represents a decision or an approval point. Typically, if yes, the task sequence flows to the right, if no, it flows to the left. Descriptions for the operation are sometimes simply Approved? or O.K.?
Delay Delay - A delay is typically shown as a half circle or a capital D. A delay occurs to an object when conditions, except where intentional changes to the physical or chemical characteristics of the object do not require immediate performance of the next planned step.
Inbound StorageStorage Storage - A storage occurs when an object is kept and protected from unauthorized removal. The symbol on the left typically indicates inbound goods. When the triangle is inverted, it typically represents storage or filing.
Transport Transportation - A transportation occurs when an object is moved from one place to another with the exception where such movements are a part of the operation or are caused by the operator at the work station during an operation and/or inspection / verification / approval.
Operation & Inspection Operation & Inspection (a.k.a. Combined Activity) - When two activities are performed at the same work station or concurrently, the symbols can be combined. The combined operation and inspection tasks are typically "combined".
Connector

off page connector
Connector - This symbol shows continuation of the flow chart from one page to another or from a decision diamond to another page or process. When you reach the bottom of the page or need to jump to another page, draw a flow chart connector symbol and connect it to the last item on the chart. Label the inside of the symbol with a letter, typically beginning with an "A" and page number where the process continues. I.E. The label Conn2points to point A on Page 2. When the process continues to another page, draw another flow chart connector symbol at an appropriate location. Label the symbol with the same letter and the page number where it continues. On page 2 in this example, the label conn1would be to indicate the process was continued at point A on page 1.  Click here for additional details on the use of a connector.

An alternate symbol also used is in more complex flowcharts is the Off Page Connector where the numbering convention is like that of the connector described above, however, the Connectors are assigned node numbers (i.e. node A1 is where one segment of a flow stops and another node A1 would be where another flow shown at a different location on the flowchart starts).  The Off Page Connector is then used to show that the flow is on a different page.

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Process Flow Chart Terms

Activity - The major processes or components within a function.
Analysis - examining and interpreting data displayed on a process flow chart in order to eliminate the unnecessary, refine the flow, and discover better methods.

Delay - A symbol used to indicate that a task in practice consistently takes longer than is warranted by time taken to complete in ideal circumstances. (i.e. the difference between "expended time" and "elapsed time".

Function - The major responsibilities of an organization. Functions are composed, in turn, of activities.

Functional Flow Chart - A chart that is used to describe how activities interact with one another within an organization as well as with other organization and/or systems.

Operation - An operation on the process flow chart that is taking place, excluding a transfer, review, or storage.

Process - A series of sequential tasks where a worker or work unit produces an output.

Process Flow Analysis - The activity of describing a process with words and symbols followed by interpreting and examining the description to improve the process.

Process Flow Chart - A chart that is used to describe the sequence and relationship of the tasks that make up an activity.

Process Flow Symbols - The symbols used to flow charting a process on a process flow chart.

Storage - The symbol for "Storage" on a Process Flow Chart that indicates that an item is stored or that indicates that information is being filed.

Task - The basic steps taken to perform an activity.

Transportation - The movement of an object from one place to another, except when such movements are a part of an operation or caused by an operator at a work station during an operation and/or inspection / verification / approval.

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Drawing a Flowchart

A basic "How-To" for drawing a flowchart is as follows:

  • A simplistic first step in drawing a flowchart is to describe the process, typically as a short statement. (i.e. How to make a flowchart).

  • The next step is to identify the initial inputs to the process followed by the successive steps (operations) of the process. The desciptions for the operations should be short and concise.

  • A decision or approval point, typically where the process branches, should be the most important alternatives (i.e. pass/fail or approved/rework).

  • The flowchart ends with the culminating, final step.

How to make a flowchart. how to make a
                        flowchart


Analyzing Flow Charts

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Functional Charts

Review the flow of activities and use the following instructions:

  1. Compare the number of activities in each operation or area. Look for uneven workloading and try work load leveling where possible.

  2. Look for repetitive activities. Look to eliminate or combine activities.

  3. Check the sequence of the activities. Are they in a logical order or should some be re-sequenced.

  4. Compare the activities in operations and in systems. Can a computer system be used to obtain information rather than needing a manual input?

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Process Flow Charts

Review the flow of the process and do the following:

1.  Look at the process inputs.

  • Does the amount of input see appropriate to the rest of the processes.

  • Is the method of input unnecessarily complicated? If so, determine changes that can improve the process.

2.  Compare process inputs to outputs.

  • Are there more outputs than inputs?

  • Are they necessary

  • Can any be combined or eliminated?

3.  Look at the process.

  • Does the process contain a large number of decisions? If so, look at improving the work flow to combine or eliminate tasks.

  • Are there no decisions? If not, look at automating the task.

4.  Review the process pattern.

  • Looping patterns in the process flow or cycling back and forth between the same operations or persons may indicate unnecessary transfers.

5,  Review the outputs.

  • Is the process producing any unnecessary distributions of the process output (i.e. generating a report with unnecessary copies being made and distributed)?

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Process Flow Description Charts

Besides the detailed description of the process flow, the process flow description should also list measurements (i.e. the number and times of operations, transfers, reviews or inspections, storage, and delays) in a summary. It is these measurements that should be reduced by analysis and improvements to the process.

  1. Look at the process flow description summary.

    • Make an initial, subjective judgment about the number of operations, transfers, reviews or inspections, storage and delays.

    • Compare the number of operations and the time per operation to determine if either seems out of proportion.

  2. Study the list of operations listed in the process to see if the number can be reduce by eliminating or combining operations.

  3. Look at the number of transfers.

    • Can any transfers be eliminated by changing the order of the tasks?

    • Simple changes in the sequence of the task can sometimes eliminate one transfer every time the process is used.

  4. Examine the reviews or inspections listed.

    • Can the process be made more efficient by removing unneeded reviews or inspections or altering the sequence or timing?

  5. Investigate Delays.

    • Determine whether delays are perceived or actual.

    • Determine how to improve the processes to eliminate actual delays

  6. Compare tasks to persons doing tasks.

    • Is the person doing the task seem to be at the appropriate level? (i.e. Is the right person to do the job at the right level such as having a manager doing a clerical or assembly task?)

  7. Review the distances between operations.

    • Are assemblies or documents recycling between the same personnel?

    • Can efficiencies be improved by moving people or work stations closer together?

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Summary

Once the chart analysis is completed, summarize the initial process, make/summarize the proposed changes and compare the two summaries to determine possible improvement results.

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Software

There are a number of software packages that do flowcharting available. The most widely used in the MSOffice arena seems to be VISIO.  I use it, however, while I have found VISIO works quite well for most flowcharting and organizational charting applications, it's more software that most users need for doing a simple flowhart.

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If you have questions or comments relating to this flowcharting information, please click here to email the author.

Copyright
Dexter A. Hansen

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This page is linked to Amazon.com' flowcharting books. Click on books of interest for additional information or to order.


There are a number of professions that use flowcharting.  The list below includes various books on flowcharting as well as several on VISIO, one of the most used programs for flowcharting.


Flowcharting Help Page List of Recommended Flowcharting Books


The Basics of Process Mapping 2nd Edition by Robert Damelio (Author) Kindle  Hardcover   Paperback

Go With the Flow!: The Clutter Flow Chart Workbook  January 20, 2023
by Hazel Thornton
Paperback

Flowcharts Usage: Get An Introduction To The Use Of Flowcharts As A Process Design December 23, 2022
by Irving Brangan) 
Paperback

MICROSOFT VISIO USER GUIDE: THE COMPLETE GUIDE FOR BEGINNERS AND EXPERTS TO MASTER VISIO DIAGRAMS by TIM VEGA | Dec 14, 2023
Paperback

Visualize Complex Processes with Microsoft Visio: A guide to visually creating, communicating, and collaborating business processes efficiently
by David J Parker and Senaj Lelic | May 12, 2023 Kindle Paperback

Free Diagram & Flowchart Software for Mac for Chart Drawing and Creation,
Mac Download  PC Download