Are there way too many bottlenecks in your business processes? Do you find your employees scratching their heads when you explain a workflow to them?
No matter what the case, flowcharts can help simplify things by visualizing processes, workflows, decision-making, and more.
In case you’re doubting the potential of mapping business processes with flowcharts, think again. 90% of the information transferred to the brain is visual. Not only that, the brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text.
Interesting, isn’t it? This tips the balance in favor of explaining your business processes visually. So let’s talk flowcharts.
Before we proceed, we’ll quickly recap what a flowchart is and then move on to discuss when you can use them and how to make one.
Here we go.
What is a Flowchart?
A flowchart is a diagram that explains processes step by step using different symbols and line arrows to indicate what to do next.
Each symbol used in a flowchart diagram indicates the action to take. For example, the diamond shape indicates moments that require a decision.
Let’s back this definition with an example of a flowchart that explains how to choose social channels:
Using a flowchart here does two things:
- Makes understanding the process easy
- Makes decision making super simple
In addition to using flowchart diagrams to simplify processes and decision making, you can use them to assign roles such as below:
This comes with a major advantage — you can easily identify what role each person plays in your organization or in a specific process/project. You can also tell if someone’s participation in the work is unnecessary, helping prevent lost resources.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s take this up a notch and dig into the benefits of flowchart mapping for your business.
Benefits of a Flowchart
Flowcharts come with several advantages such as making things easy to understand, identifying bottlenecks in a business plan, and so on. Here’s a rundown:
1. Clearly explains processes
Employees don’t need to go through clunky files that document a process. Or, even sit hours on end to discuss each step of the process. With a flowchart in front of them, they can easily point out the actions each step requires (hint: the symbols of the flowchart make this super simple. More on this a bit).
2. Makes learning easy
Did you know that some of your employees may be visual learners? They might be mum about it, but science estimates 65% of the people are visual learners. These folks have an excellent spatial sense and learn best when concepts are in visual formats such as diagrams, infographics, charts, maps, and so on.
Imagine how easy life would become for them when plans are in a visual format.
3. Makes decision making easy too
Flowcharts also streamline processes and reduce back and forth between managers and subordinates. Wondering how? By making it simple for people to make decisions.
Look at this example:
A user can start by asking himself about the company’s website goals. If he has clear goals and marketing plans, he can follow along the ‘yes’ line and dig into the audience next. If he doesn’t have the goals though, he can go along the ‘no’ arrow and get to work finding audience insights by getting in touch with senior management. However, if he has the audience details, he can go to the next step with another ‘yes’ in the flowchart.
See how that makes decision making simple?
4. Effective training and communication
With documented processes, onboarding becomes efficient. You have a visual rundown in front of you as you verbally walk your new employee or internee through the process.
When information is all thoroughly mapped out, your employees and teammates can also pinpoint steps they need more information on.
Approach it like this: you walk your teammates through a process verbally. On the surface, they’d feel they’ve got you. However, when they practically get to different steps in the process, they might have questions they couldn’t previously think of. Naturally, this slows things down.
But what if you gave a presentation with flowcharts? With the entire plan fit into a diagram or a series of diagrams, your employees will better understand what happens at each stage and ask questions then and there. The takeaway – enhanced communication.
When Should You Use a Flowchart?
Good question. The basic idea is to break a process down and explain it step by step. Put these steps together and you’ve a complete model of a process.
Keeping this in mind, you can use a flowchart when:
- Explaining or analyzing a process
- Identifying constraints to improve a workflow
- Preparing best practice models of a process
- Documenting a process
You can also use flowchart diagrams to document organizational hierarchy or create a who-does-what chart.
By now, you know what a flowchart is, its benefits, and when you can use it. The only remaining elephant in the room is – how do you make one? Let’s outline the process next.
Things to Know Before Designing a Flowchart
Making a flowchart is not about putting together steps, moving them around, and thinking your diagram is ready. Nope, it’s just not that.
Instead, you need to know the nitty-gritty details starting with anatomy of a flowchart.
Each symbol in a flowchart diagram depicts certain action or stands for something. For instance, a specific symbol represents a document and another is used for multiple documents. Here’s the difference:
Similarly, a rectangle in this chart shows activity and an oval determines the start and stop benchmarks in a process. Not to forget, the diamond indicates decision-making in a chart like we’ve discussed before.
Here are some of these symbols along with other important ones:
Another crucial component in a flowchart is the arrow or flow line. These lines indicate next steps, navigating a user from one step to another.
You can always use a solid line or you could get creative and choose dashed lines, elbow lines, and even lines with arrows at their ends when designing your flowchart.
Know Your Brand Design
Another very important component before you get to designing a flowchart is getting your hands on your brand identity. Gather the color codes, the fonts as well as graphic elements such as the shapes you use.
If you don’t have a brand identity yet, this may be a good time to get started. Because you don’t want your flowcharts and the rest of your business designs to look like you’ve gathered them from different sources. Instead, you want to be using a uniform color palette, fonts, and other elements of visual identity to make your brand memorable.
This way the flowchart you’ll be creating will align with your brand identity.
If you’re tempted to map out an elaborate flowchart, hold yourself back. A cluttered flowchart kills the very purpose of the diagram as it becomes very tough to understand, let along pleasing to the eye.
To prepare a clear flowchart, you’ll need to become friends with minimalism. Remove any unnecessary design elements and stick with short, to the point copy. Ensure you select readable typography and use a lot of white space.
How to Make Flowcharts in 4 Easy Steps
Ready to create digestible flowcharts that get your message across at a glance? Follow these steps:
Step 1: Identify the business process you want to map and pick your format
Be sure about the process you mean to lay out in a flowchart diagram. Is it a subset of a process? Are you showing how to properly do PR outreach? Or is it a flowchart explaining the roles each person on the team is playing?
Once done, pick your flowchart’s layout. It could be as simple as a linear flowchart design.
Or, it could be a creative infographic flowchart that takes design inspiration from an infographic in the way it’s laid out, but is basically a flowchart with flow lines indicating next steps.
But here’s the catch, if you’re designing flowcharts from scratch, you’re all on your own. You’ll need to make some rough sketches and work out the design before getting to work. Undoubtedly, this can be a time suck.
However, if you use flowchart templates from a design tool, you’d get a head start. And you also wouldn’t feel the urge to bang your head against the wall in an attempt to get the design right.
Step 2: Break down the process and talk to experts
Next, brainstorm the process you’re going to map out. Make sure you write down all the steps involved in the process.
And be sure of where the process starts and ends. Beginning with determining your start and endpoints is a great approach because you set limits for listing steps.
As you sketch the process, ask for expert insights, figure out the inputs (resources that go in) and outputs (results that come out) of the task.
Let’s say you’re making a flowchart on how to create an online course. In this case, it’s best to interview your content team to learn the ins and outs of the process starting from course creation to distribution. This way you’ll create a flowchart that’s thorough and contains steps with enough details to make it easy to follow.
Step 3: Prepare a rough outline of the entire process
You’re only one step away from the actual design work now. In this part, you need to whittle down all the expert insights and brainstorming sessions into a rough framework.
If you’re drawing a decision flowchart, get your answers ready for both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ options. If it’s a process you’re explaining, lay out the steps in a numbered list so you’ve all the steps enlisted.
Then pick the correct flowchart symbols that depict each action the future user of a flowchart will need to take. If it’s a process, use a rectangle. If it’s a decision, stick with a diamond symbol and so on.
In short, have the steps ready in sequential order.
Step 4: Start designing your flowchart
Now comes the actual part where you put all the steps, specific tasks and decision points, into a flowchart diagram. If you’re using design software to create a flowchart, it’ll be much easier to draw your flow and insert your information.
Many tools allow you to drag and drop your shapes onto your canvas, drag lines from shape to shape and fully build your flowchart just by clicking and dragging across the page.
Make sure that your colors and fonts match your brand so that your flowcharts are easily recognizable as owned by your company.
Ready to Visualize Business Processes With Flowcharts?
Remember, visually communicating your business processes with the help of flowcharts is a smart strategy. Not only do these diagrams make information easy to understand, but they help improve efficiency too.
Make sure you keep your flowchart designs minimal. What’s more, make the chart easy to read by using readable fonts, color contrasts that don’t clash (for instance, bright colors for symbols with a neutral background), and adding a key to explain symbols used. Don’t forget to give your flowcharts a title.