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    • Science
    • 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 opportunities for improvement.

      Flowcharts help to:

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

      Flowchart Levels

      Flowcharts can depict a process with different levels of detail. For instance, a high-level diagram describes the overall process from the beginning to the ending point. The diagram for a high-level flowchart may be a series of phrases in sequential boxes. A low-level flowchart 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 that contains some detail.

      For example:


      How to Create a Flowchart

      1. Define start and end points to the selected process. Identify where the process interfaces with a larger organizational process and/or support processes.
      2. Realistically, identify individual steps within the current process. Indicate decision points in the process, as these may highlight potential roadblocks, errors, or miscommunication in the systems. Consider the following questions:
        • What is being done?
        • When is it done?
        • Who does it?
        • Where is it done?
        • How is it done?
      3. Create an 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 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 Flowchart Shapes and Symbols

      Formal flowcharts use dedicated shapes to represent different actions or steps in a process. Lines and arrows are used to indicate the sequence of steps, and the relationships among them. Some of the more commonly 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 four symbols, including the oval (end point), rectangle (process), diamond (decision), and circle (connector). If you are using other flowchart shapes, add a shape symbol key to your flowchart for clarity.

      Keep in Mind:

      • At decision points (diamonds), use a down arrow to show a positive workflow, and an arrow to the right to indicate 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, it usually suggests that the decision question is unclear or that two decisions are stacked and require 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 QI project more manageable.
      • Use the flowchart during a Cause and Effect analysis to facilitate identification of process factors or issues.

      Symbol Key

      Symbol Symbol Description
      Oval Both the start and end of the process being studied. It usually contains the word “start” or “end.”
      Box A single step or an entire sub-process within a larger process.
      Diamond 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.
      Parallelogram Material or information entering or leaving the process, such as a customer order or product.
      Document Report A printed document or report.
      Circle 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).
      Inverted Triangle 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.
      Delay This shape indicates a delay in the process.