How to Create a Flow Chart (With Definition and Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 29 June 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Flowcharts are presentation or collaboration tools that facilitate stronger communication and interpretation of information in the workplace. They are versatile tools that various industries and professions regularly use, so there are different types of flow charts available. Using flow charts can help your team understand information and discuss action plans more easily, which improves workplace productivity. In this article, we discuss what a flow chart is, explain how to make flow charts and provide advice for creating or using them.

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What is a flow chart?

A flow chart is a graphical diagram that illustrates a process that is usually broken down into steps. Symbols or colour codes represent the steps to differentiate each element and categorise them neatly. Some of the common symbols used include ovals, rectangles, triangles and squares. The flow chart connects the steps using arrows to depict a sequence, which helps users understand the procedure's flow.

Flowcharts help teams comprehend complex processes by breaking them down into clear and digestible steps. It can range from straightforward hand drawings to detailed computerised diagrams with multiple steps and routes, depending on your purpose. Many businesses use it to explain organisation plans and to designate roles for various projects. In contrast, technology or data firms may use it to describe complex software or to manage data.

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How to create a flow chart in 7 steps

To learn how to create a flow chart, here are seven steps that you can take:

1. Determine its purpose

Before creating a flow chart, it's useful to identify its purpose. This helps you to design it in a more targeted and efficient approach as it directs you to list the relevant tasks and decisions to accomplish. It also helps you to identify your audience, so you can write in an appropriate manner. Your audience can be your colleagues, clients or superiors. Here are some common objectives for creating flow charts:

  • standardising work processes to ensure consistency in service or product quality

  • planning a project and its timeline

  • explaining a complex software programming process

  • sharing a standard operating procedure

2. Find a suitable template

After determining the purpose of the flow chart, find a template to use as a base for your chart, especially if you're new to designing them. There are different flow chart formats for different purposes that you can find online from ready-made templates. Find one that suits your industry profile and needs to help you save time designing one. Otherwise, you can use basic presentation or drawing tool software to help you begin. This helps you freely customise it according to your preferences.

3. Organise your tasks

Creating a list of all the tasks and procedures can help you break down the project into simple steps. Then, you can rearrange them in chronological order or according to the level of urgency. For each step, state the next course of action, such as an action or a decision. Link them back to the other steps with arrows or lines and add descriptions for clarity. After identifying all possible courses of action and decisions, you can end the flow chart with a concluding action, decision or outcome.

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4. Characterise steps with symbols

Symbols are critical to distinguish the flow chart elements. This provides clarity and organisation to the entire diagram. The following list includes several common symbols used for flow charts with their meaning:

  • Oval: An oval designates the start or end of a flow chart.

  • Rectangle: A rectangle identifies a standard process or step.

  • Diamond: A diamond indicates a decision split into two or more routes.

  • Parallelogram: A parallelogram signifies the input or output of data.

  • Circle: A circle acts as a connector.

  • Inverted triangle: An inverted triangle shows a merger of paths.

5. Connect steps using lines or arrows

After adding the various steps and including the symbols, you can now connect them all together using lines or arrows. This creates a sequence of events that makes the flow chart easy to follow and read. If you're trying to depict a specific direction, using arrows makes it easier for your readers to follow. Otherwise, you can use simple lines to join the steps together. If relevant, you can link some steps back to previous steps if there's repetition for some paths.

6. Add split paths or decisions

If you have steps that require users to make decisions, such as a yes or no type of question, you can use split paths. This helps you create separate paths based on the user's different responses. From each new path, you can then separate out the various steps for them to take. This helps to clearly segregate procedures for different situations and provides more information to guide users through work procedures.

7. Review your flow chart

After drafting your flow chart and including all the necessary information and links, you can review it from beginning to end. This helps you check if there are any errors in structure and flow, ensuring the information on the flow chart shows a logical process. You can ensure that all symbols and shapes are accurate too. Lastly, proofread your flow chart for any spelling or grammatical mistakes to make it easy to understand and look professional.

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Types of flow charts

There are four main types of flow charts to know about if you're looking for a template that's common and flexible to use:

1. Process flow chart

A process flow chart is a highly popular diagram due to its versatility. It shows how a process works with sequential steps and highlights any decisions required during the process. Organisations can use process flow charts for project planning, designating task responsibilities within a team or company and illustrating how companies execute services or create products.

2. Workflow flow chart

A workflow flow chart documents the flow of certain work processes and the responsibilities of each team member throughout this process. This gives clarity to individuals on their duties and shows how each member collaborates with each other to perform their tasks, which brings about more teamwork and efficiency. Workflow diagrams are also useful in providing a concise overview of the job duties to senior management or new employees.

3. Swimlane flow chart

A swimlane flow chart illustrates how different departments, employees or processes work alongside each other. It can look like multiple workflow diagrams placed together but with connections to each other's steps or paths. It generally shows workflows from different sectors of an organisation and highlights when they collaborate or interact with each other.

4. Data flow chart

A data flow chart depicts how the department processes information in a work procedure, with indications of data input and output points. Design or technology firms mostly use these diagrams, although any business that wants to analyse its data flow can use them. This helps organisations evaluate how they can streamline the process or identify areas where data might leak.

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Tips for creating and using a flow chart

To improve your flow chart's design, here are some tips you can follow:

Be consistent

Making the design of the flow chart elements consistent can help it look neat and comprehensible. You can do so by ensuring that all shapes and symbols are of the same size. Colour coding the different shapes also helps to emphasise the significance of the shapes visually and makes it easier for users to remember the sequence. Try to use bolder colours for the start of a flow chart and lighter ones for basic actions or decisions.

Fit onto one page

It's best to fit all the elements onto one page to make the chart easy to read from a glance. This also helps ensure that all information stays visible and doesn't become cropped or cut off when printed. You can resize the flow chart layout to landscape or portrait to see which layout fits better on the page. You may also resize the fonts while ensuring their readability.

Structure data

Some flow charts consist of decisions where there are multiple paths to follow, which can be confusing for the reader. Structuring data from left to right organises it better and makes it easier for users to follow the flow chart's sequence. You can also lay out the steps from top to bottom to make the flow chart clearer to comprehend.

Allow team members access

It's good to give permission to team members to access the flow chart if it's a digital file. This provides convenience and opportunities for them to edit the contents and add or remove steps whenever there are changes to the workflow. This streamlines the work process and facilitates teamwork and efficiency.

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