An Introduction to Flow Charts for Visualizing Business Processes

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A flow chart is a visual representation of a process or workflow. It depicts each step in a process and how they connect and flow together. Flow charts are incredibly useful for businesses that need to map out operations, procedures, project plans, and more. They provide a clear overview of a process that is easy to understand at a glance.

In this article, we’ll explore what flow charts are their key benefits for businesses and provide an introduction to creating effective flow charts for business workflows and processes.

What is a Flow Chart?

A flow chart is a diagram that uses boxes, symbols, and arrows to illustrate the steps and flow of a process. The boxes represent each task or action step. The arrows show the sequence and connection between steps.

Flow charts visualize the relationships between the components of a process and the order in which actions occur. This allows you to see the big picture of the workflow or procedure. Seeing all the key steps mapped out provides useful insight for analysis and improvement.

Benefits of Using Flow Charts for Businesses

There are many advantages to using flow charts for mapping business processes. These include:

Visual Overview of a Process

Flow charts provide a clear visual summary of a process. Seeing the steps mapped out offers an overhead view that is easy to comprehend. It’s far simpler than trying to imagine a process or reading paragraphs explaining it. The visual format makes it easy to trace the flow and see the relationships between components.

Identify Inefficiencies

By mapping out processes, businesses can easily identify bottlenecks, redundant steps, and other sources of inefficiency. The flow chart format makes these issues visually apparent. Managers can use flow charts to target areas for optimization and process improvement.

Onboard New Employees

Flow charts are extremely helpful for training new employees. A flow chart provides a quick, easy-to-understand overview of new processes and procedures. New hires can reference flow charts as they learn their roles until processes become familiar.


Documenting processes with flow charts is invaluable for standardization. It provides a visual record of agreed-upon procedures that team members can reference. This helps ensure consistency and alignment across the organization.

Aid Communication & Collaboration

Flow charts enable clearer communication about processes. Different departments can use flow charts to better coordinate cross-functional processes. They also help managers communicate new workflows and changes to their teams.

Essential Elements of a Flow Chart

While styles can vary, flow charts contain a few key components that work together to visualize a process. These include:

  • Shapes are used within flow charts to represent the different steps in a process. Common shapes include rectangles, ovals, and diamonds. Each shape contains a short text label that describes the action for that step.
  • Arrows show the sequence and relationships between steps in a process. They connect the shapes to one another, illustrating how the flow moves from one step to the next. Well-formatted arrows emphasize the order of steps.
  • A start shape indicates the beginning point of the process being mapped. An end shape indicates the termination point where the process is complete.
  • Connecting lines link together the shapes and illustrate the flow moving from one step to the next. They work with the arrows to connect the components and show the relationships.

Best Practices for Flow Chart Design

If you have never created a flow chart before, it can be hard to know whether you’re doing it correctly. Don’t worry! Keep the following best practices in mind when creating flow charts for business processes:

  • Keep the flow chart simple – You should only use basic standard shapes and minimal text. Too much clutter makes a flow chart harder to comprehend, which is the opposite of what you want.
  • Be consistent in your approach – Pick one flow charting style and use the same shapes, connectors, and structure throughout the diagram.
  • Emphasize the sequence properly – Make sure the flow and order of steps is clear through well-formatted arrows that connect the diagram’s shapes.
  • Highlight key steps – Consider highlighting key steps by making important actions stand out through the use of different shapes or colors.
  • Make the flow chart readable – The shapes and text should be large enough to be readable at a glance. Allow plenty of white space in the layout.
  • Optimize the layout – Arrange shapes logically from top to bottom or left to right. Minimize arrow crossovers for clarity.

Flowchart Design Tools

There are many powerful software tools available to help create flow charts. These platforms provide libraries of standardized shapes, connectors, and other diagram elements. Key features that make a flowchart design tool easier include:

  • Intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces
  • Shape and connector “magnetism” to keep elements aligned
  • Auto-formatting of shapes, lines, and arrows
  • Libraries of flow chart templates and examples
  • Ability to create data-linked diagrams that auto-update
  • Features to re-arrange diagrams and clean up layouts

There are a lot of popular flow chart design tools to choose from. Many of these offer free versions as well as paid plans with more advanced capabilities.

Additional Flow Chart Types

While basic flow charts represent linear workflows well, there are other diagram types that can visualize different aspects of processes:

  • Swimlane flow charts: Illustrate the responsibilities of different individuals or teams with columns or “swimlanes”. Helpful for cross-functional processes.
  • Data flow diagrams: Show how data moves through systems and the transformations it undergoes. Useful for IT and software processes.
  • Process flow diagrams: Provide more detail than basic flow charts. It may include metrics, inputs, and decision logic.
  • Workflow diagram: Highlights handoffs between humans, systems, and groups. Often includes swimlanes.

Flow charts offer businesses an invaluable tool for visually mapping processes, identifying improvements, and communicating workflows. While they are simple in concept, effective flow chart design follows key best practices. Smart use of professional flowchart design tools enables businesses to create accurate diagrams efficiently. With a clear understanding of the fundamentals, any organization can leverage flow charts to optimize operations.