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Flow charts are graphical representations of a process that illustrates the sequence of steps needed to reach the process's outcome. A flow chart may include a sequence of operations, machines, materials, or information; it can document a physical process like a manufacturing cycle or it can illustrate an abstract process like an algorithm used in a computer program. Because they break processes down into discrete steps and an observable sequence, flow charts serve themselves well as tools for process analysis and improvement. They help work teams identify the different elements of a process and understand the interrelationships among the different steps. Flow charts may also be used to gather information and data about a process or process performance that will greatly aid in decision making regarding the process.

Constructing flow charts requires the use of different symbols. The main symbols that are used to construct flow charts are shown in Figure 1. They are:

In addition, dozens of more specialized symbols exist for more elaborate charts.

Figure 1 Flow Chart Symbols
Figure 1
Flow Chart Symbols

To construct a flow chart, the following main steps are required:

  1. Define the process and identify the scope of the flow diagram.
  2. Identify project team members who are to be involved in the construction of the process flow diagram.
  3. Define the different steps involved in the process and the interrelationships between the different steps. All team members should develop and agree upon the different steps for the process.
  4. Finalize the diagram. Get other concerned individuals involved as necessary. Modify the diagram as needed.
  5. Use the flow diagram and continuously update as needed.

Figure 2 shows a flow chart for a hypothetical research and development process.

Figure 2 Simple Flow Chart for a Research and Development Process
Figure 2
Simple Flow Chart for a Research
and Development Process


Damelio, Robert. The Basics of Process Mapping. New York: Quality Resources, 1996.

Galloway, Dianne. Mapping Work Processes. Milwaukee: American Society for Quality, 1994.

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