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
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
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
Starting and ending activities are signified by a rounded-edge rectangle
or an oval. These are sometimes called terminal activities.
Activities or steps are indicated by a rectangle. Each step is shown in
a single rectangle. These symbols may also be called activity or process
Diamonds are decision symbols. The question to be answered or decision
to be made is written inside the diamond. The answer determines the path
that will be taken as a next step.
Deliverable outcomes appear as parallelograms. These include any steps
in the process that yield tangible output, such as the customer
receiving the product, a committee issuing a status report, or the
organization realizing cost savings.
Circles designate a continuation of a process in detail somewhere else
in the diagram. A number or letter inside the circle indicates where the
chain picks up elsewhere on the page or on another page.
Written information or documents related to the activity or the process
are indicated by a document symbol.
The progression from one step to another is indicated by flow lines with
In addition, dozens of more specialized symbols exist for more elaborate
Flow Chart Symbols
To construct a flow chart, the following main steps are required:
Define the process and identify the scope of the flow diagram.
Identify project team members who are to be involved in the construction
of the process flow diagram.
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.
Finalize the diagram. Get other concerned individuals involved as
necessary. Modify the diagram as needed.
Use the flow diagram and continuously update as needed.
Figure 2 shows a flow chart for a hypothetical research and development
Simple Flow Chart for a Research
and Development Process
The Basics of Process Mapping.
New York: Quality Resources, 1996.
Mapping Work Processes.
Milwaukee: American Society for Quality, 1994.