A flowchart is a pictorial representation of an algorithm, workflow or process. It provides an individual with a simplified method to understand the organization chart or the internal control system. Although flowcharts are often used in software development, various businesses are using this method to draw a clear course of action.
While clarity is one of the key factors, the various levels of flowcharting processes help maintain standard symbols and streamline the task, making flowchart the most preferred tool. It is used when analyzing a process, identifying potential issues, measuring performance as well as a communication or training aid.
Lately, Computer Aided Design Technology is used to enhance the process flow diagrams as they are split into different stages. The various levels of flowcharting processes are as mentioned below:
Macro Level or Workflow diagrams:
This initial stage of the Levels of Flowcharting comprises of not more than 6 steps, where you provide the organization or an individual with a ‘big picture’. This stage highlights the main steps as well as the scope of the entire process.
It helps employees identify with their roles and complete the assigned tasks in a systematic manner. Here they understand the roles and responsibilities of other teams and how they are co-related. The employees then try to build a rapport with other team members to ensure cohesiveness.
Organizers or departmental heads state that they often identify a key issue in one or two steps at this basic stage and it has helped eliminate the discrepancies. Hence, it helps reduce the time spent on drawing out the entire flow.
A workflow diagram comprises of three components:
- Input: Equipment or information required to complete the step which includes labour and capital.
- Transformation: Change of ownership or purpose, location or physical characteristics that affect the output.
- Output: The outcome of the transformation
Although workflow diagrams originated from the manufacturing industry, they are now used across various industries and technology has made it easier to create. Some industries where workflow diagrams are: e-commerce, medical, military, finance and education.
Mini Level or Swim Lane Flowchart:
This level is also called the Cross-Functional activity level or the Swim Lane Maps that dives into the details of macro level but provides lesser depth in comparison to the micro level. The swim lane flowchart is most preferred among all levels of flowcharting.
Here, the processes are grouped in ‘swim lanes’ which are parallel, vertical or horizontal lines that separate individuals or the various units of an organization.
Horizontal lanes seem more practical especially on computers as the screens are often wider. They provide details of interaction between each segment within their respective lanes. The cross-functional activity level highlights the job done by every individual at each stage and is split based on the division, responsibility, department or function.
This also shows the interconnection of some steps between the lanes and how the different role-players interact to ensure that the process flows smoothly.
This process is helpful in identifying time gaps and other bottlenecks that could hinder the workflow, at the same time it can help learn which department caused the delay.
Swim lanes are one of the four elements of Business Process Diagrams where the pool represents the major participants in the process. In this, a different pool may indicate a different company or a department that play a significant part in the process. It shows the activity, role or participant and their accountabilities at various steps. The Business Process Diagrams comprises of three other elements:
- Flow objects that comprises of events, activities and gateways
- Connecting objects that is sequence or message flow and association
- Artifacts like data object, group and annotation
Micro level or Process Flowchart:
The Micro level uses a more complex diagram in comparison to the Swim Lane Maps which is called the Process Flowchart or System Flow diagram. It is often used in the manufacturing, administrative or the service processes.
While this is used in mapping out the roles and responsibilities within the organization, it is not limited to an individual department or function. It is used to draw the entire activity or organization flow. This diagram usually flows from left to the right with arrows clearly showing the direction of the flow.
Process flow diagrams are often used in Engineering where units differ in structure as well as implementation. It gives the entire team, department or organization a clear picture of the process in its entirety. It helps identify and eliminate non-value-added operations. Process flow diagrams facilitate team work through communication, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.
The process flow diagrams for multiple units at a plant are brief as they merely become an overview and do not get into details. Such diagrams are known as the schematic flow diagrams or block flow diagrams where each block signifies a single unit or a particular stage in a process.
On the other hand, the Piping and Instrument Diagram (P&ID) is more technical and dwells deeper into the mechanical details for piping designers, electrical engineers, instrument engineers and other technical experts who require such detailed information in comparison to the process details. They can also be used to produce a product or service using a variety of drawing tools. They often comprise of information regarding the equipment, process sequence, process and utility piping, bypass lines, instruments, valves, vents, drains and other items.
A flowchart that has been developed well in the design phase can help save time wasted on manpower. A computer based instructional program can help build a structure, create a sequence and branch decision points. It supports course goals and objectives before development.
Irrespective of whether you are a sole creator with various roles and responsibilities, or one of the several member on a development team, it always helps to speak and understand the same language especially if it is visual. It guides the project through its iterations and develops through the various stages of the instructional design process.
It may be easy to understand the various levels of flowcharting processes, designing one may seem like a daunting task. So, before you deep dive into drawing one, let’s understand the points you need to keep in mind:
- Decide the main aim of your diagram and the length of it
- Clearly define the processes and its boundaries
- Chalk out each step from beginning to the end
- Define activities and individual roles at every step
- Draw arrows to demonstrate the flow of work
- Identify the people involved and review the chart with the team
While there are mainly three levels of flowcharting processes there are different kinds of flowcharts:
- Process and Instrumentation Drawing
- TQM Diagram
- EPC Diagram
- Basic Flowchart
- Cause and Effect Diagram
- Data Flow Diagram
- Fault Tree Analysis Diagram
- Audit Diagram
- Sales Flowchart
- Accounting Flowcharts
- ER Diagram
There is no ‘ideal’ detailed flowchart, and even though this may seem ambiguous, flowcharting is not really too difficult. The only question or thought in the mind of the creator of a flowchart should be whether the required result would be achieved from the created flowchart. The answer to this would help to decide which level must be used and whether the right ‘amount’ of detail is present in the flowchart. Details may be added or taken off depending on the result required. We hope that these steps were helpful enough to make your flowcharting process easier.