How to Streamline Business Processes Using Flow Charts

4 min read

Understanding and improving business processes is essential for any organization looking to operate more efficiently. One useful tool for visualizing and streamlining workflows is the flow chart. Flow charts, sometimes called flow diagrams, use boxes, arrows and symbols to map out step-by-step what is happening in a process. They provide a high-level overview that makes it easier to identify redundancies, bottlenecks and opportunities for improvement. While flow charts can be drawn by hand, using flowchart templates speeds up the process.

Types of Flow Charts

There are several common types of flow charts, each with their own nuances that make them better suited to certain applications.

Basic Flow Charts

The basic flow chart uses simple boxes connected with arrows to show the sequence of steps. They provide a high-level view and are easy to understand. Basic flow charts work well for basic processes and are a good starting point for beginners.

Cross-Functional Flow Charts

Cross-functional flow charts go a step deeper to show how different departments, systems or people interact within a process. Using different colors or symbols for each group makes it easy to visualize hand-offs and identify areas for improvement.

Swim Lane Flow Charts

Swim lane flow charts get their name from dividing processes into different “lanes” associated with particular roles or departments. They provide the most detailed view of complex cross-functional processes with many decision points and stakeholders.

How to Create a Flow Chart

  1. Identify the process. Clarify the specific process you want to map out. Determining the scope and level of detail needed is an important first step.
  2. Gather information. Interview employees and observe the process to understand the steps involved. Identify decision points and outcomes.
  3. Brainstorm process steps. Make a list of every step from start to finish. Avoid getting stuck in the details at this point. Focus on mapping out the big picture.
  4. Organize the steps. Number the steps in order. Identify any loops or decision points in the sequence. Group related steps together into high-level phases or columns if using a swim lane format.
  5. Choose a flow chart type. Select the type that will provide the right level of detail to serve your objectives, whether that is a basic, cross-functional or swim lane flow chart.
  6. Use flowchart templates. Use premade flow chart templates that you can easily customize to your process. This saves time over creating entirely new flowcharts from scratch.
  7. Connect the steps. Use connecting arrows to show the relationships and sequence between each step in the process.
  8. Refine and finalize. Double check for accuracy. Make any needed tweaks to ensure the flow chart clearly captures the real-life workflows.

Once complete, the flow chart provides a shared understanding that makes it easier to optimize workflows. The visual format helps identify clear opportunities for improvements like eliminating redundancies, smoothing hand-offs between teams and removing bottlenecks. While creating an initial flow chart takes time upfront, it pays off through enabling data-driven process enhancements.

Key Benefits of Using Flow Charts

There are many advantages to mapping out business processes with flow charts:

  • Visual format improves understanding – A picture is worth a thousand words. Flow charts create clarity for employees, managers and stakeholders.
  • Identifies redundancies and bottlenecks – Duplicated effort and snags in the process get exposed.
  • Highlights improvement areas – Seeing the big picture makes it easier to pinpoint where to streamline workflows.
  • Promotes collaboration – Employees feel heard and are more on board with changes after contributing their insights.

Using flow chart to visualize and better understand business processes enables data-driven improvements that boost efficiency, productivity and results. Following the steps outlined above to map out current workflows provides a solid starting point for any organization looking to streamline operations and enhance how work gets done.

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