• Flowchart

  • A Flowchart is a graphic diagram or map that illustrates the steps and decision points that make up a work process. It represents a common understanding of the process and enables the team to examine individual steps in order to identify problems and improvement opportunities. 

    Use a Flowchart to:  

    • Clarify the steps and decision points in the process
    • Identify the complexity or variability of the process, as well as its management
    • Clarify outcome vs. process steps
    • Establish measures for procedures within a process  

    How to Create a Flowchart 

    Flowcharts can depict a process at two or more levels – a high-level diagram that describes the overall process from the beginning to the ending point. The actual diagram for a high-level flowchart can be a series of phrases in sequential boxes. A low-level flow diagram contains more detail about the major steps in a process and can be constructed once the specific start and end points are defined. For lengthy, time-dependent processes, it may be helpful to create a mid-level flowchart.

    For example: 

    • High-level—Wake up ⇒ Take a shower ⇒ Get dressed ⇒ Have Breakfast ⇒ Drive to work
    • Mid-level—Get the milk out ⇒ Make a pot of tea ⇒ Eat cereal ⇒ Clean up dishes
    • Low-level—Take cereal box out of cupboard ⇒ Pour into bowl ⇒ Pour milk over cereal ⇒ Get Spoon ⇒ Eat  

    1. Define start and end points to the selected process, as well as where it interfaces with a larger process and/or support processes.
    2. Identify the individual steps within the current process, not how the team thinks it should happen. Identify the decision points in the process, as these may highlight the potential for roadblocks, errors, or miscommunication in the systems.
      Questions that may help in flowcharting a process are: 
      • What is being done?
      • When is it done?
      • Who does it?
      • Where is it done?
      • How it is done?  
    3. Create the initial flowchart using post-it notes. Place the notes on a flip chart pad or blank wall. Keep the flowchart simple and use arrows to show the direction of all the steps in the process. Make sure each step is placed in the order that it occurs in the current process.
    4. Allow time for the team to study the flowchart--it may have to be left up for several days. This will allow the team time to observe the current process and make adjustments and additions to the flowchart as needed. Finalize the flowchart at a second meeting.
    5. Keep the flow chart. The team will need to refer to it several times throughout the course of the project. 

    Basic Flowcharting Shapes and Symbols 

    Formal flowcharts use special shapes to represent different types of actions or steps in a process. Lines and arrows show the sequence of the steps, and the relationships among them. Some of the more frequently used shapes are described below. It is not necessary to use these symbols and shapes to create an effective flowchart.

    The vast majority of flowcharts rely on just four 4 of the symbols: oval (End point), rectangle (Process), diamond (Decision), and circle (Connector). In fact, if you use other flowcharting shapes, many people will not know what they are for, so add a shape symbol key to your flowchart.  

    Things to keep in mind when creating flowcharts:  

    At decision points (diamonds), use a down arrow to show a positive workflow, and an arrow, typically going right from the shape for an alternative workflow or stop. 

    • Only one arrow for ‘Yes’ and one arrow for ‘No’ should flow from each decision. If more than one arrow is needed for multiple yes and no responses, it usually suggests that the decision question is unclear or that two decisions are stacked and requires separation.
    • Draw lines after all the steps and decisions are identified.
    • At any time during the creation of the flowchart, it may become evident that the starting and ending points are farther apart than initially thought. It is acceptable to adjust the starting and ending points to make the quality improvement project more manageable.
    • Use the flowchart during a Cause and Effect analysis to facilitate identification of process factors or issues.


     Symbol  Symbol Description  The oval represents both the start and end of the process being studied. It usually contains the word "Start" or "End  
    A box can represent a single step ("add two cups of flour"), or an entire sub-process ("make bread") within a larger process 
    A diamond shape represents the point in a process where a decision is made. If there are several decisions at a particular point in the process, lines representing different decisions should emerge from different points of the diamond. (Yes/No, No/No-Go, etc.)  This shape represents material or information entering or leaving the process, such as a customer order or product.  This shape represents a printed document or report  A circle represents the Connector between multiple pages of large or long flowcharts. Place a letter in the circle on the first page, and place a circle with the same letter, in the same place on the subsequent page. This illustrates where the process "meets' on the next page(s). triangle.gif 
    In inverted triangle indicates a step where two or more sub-processes become one.
     Arrow  An arrow indicates the sequence of steps and the direction of the workflow. 
    This shape indicates a delay in the process.

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