Flowcharts and Workflow Management

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Serendipity, human ingenuity, and the intelligent application of effort have helped create milestones in human civilization. The discovery of fire may have been a fortunate event, but the invention of powered flight was the outcome of sustained human effort mated to the spirit of scientific enterprise. Similarly, the atomic age was brought about by the discovery and application of scientific principles to the cause of modern warfare and subsequently, to the cause of human progress. In recent times, workflow management has grown as a mantra that emerged from the requirement to impart discipline and high visibility to myriad work processes. Flowchart diagrams represent one of the prominent methods of managing workflow in the modern world. These illustrations enable designers to factor in multiple moving parts into a visual matrix that aids comprehension and promotes healthy outcomes.

Modern flowchart diagrams “simplify the understanding of business activities, define roles and responsibilities within those processes, and help identify bottlenecks that keep things from running efficiently.” The utility of such diagrams, therefore, is manifest in the simplicity accorded to opaque systems and processes. For instance, a commercial airline operator may choose to deploy flowcharts in a bid to codify its various business components and the processes that power business operations. The flowchart diagrams examine the operation of each part of a process in a granular manner, thereby creating high levels of visibility for the benefit of business associates, business managers, system architects, industry regulators, and other stakeholders. Such clarity enables the business operator to drive incremental efficiency in its business processes, while undertaking iterative exercises to isolate and eliminate waste from said processes. This illustration is an instance of workflow management in an industry that generates billions of dollars in annual revenues worldwide.

Inconsistencies, errors, and stray events represent random occurrences that may partially disrupt the operation of a business process. Flowcharts that promote workflow management must contain provisions that allow such processes to revert to an earlier state in a bid to defeat (inadvertent) errors and eliminate avenues of inconsistency. For instance, business managers supervising the late stages of a software development project may detect design errors that point to faulty workflow management practices. A flowchart that maps said project must create routes that enable coders to re-visit the design process and eliminate the factors that triggered errors in the project. In line with this, coders and software developers must work to initiate a re-design of certain aspects of the project, thereby actively reducing the risks of project failure in the proverbial long run. Such mechanisms have a tangible impact on client satisfaction levels, profit margins, and business bottom lines.

The modern commercial enterprise works to drive performance growth and higher profits in every calendar quarter. This necessitates burgeoning numbers of customers and complex business processes that offer products and services to said customers. In this scenario, the digital flowchart can define a number of steps and stages that complete such customer-facing processes. An e-commerce business operator, for instance, can devise a flowchart that outlines every stage of the typical e-commerce transaction. The step-by-step progression of workflow management depicted in said chart creates a roadmap to service the customer, process payment, pull products from inventory, and deliver the same to the customer. In essence, the flowchart imparts a high degree of transparency to this commercial process. This instance of workflow management can be replicated across geographies, thereby enabling the e-commerce operator to scale business operations to higher levels. The foregoing illustration clearly underlines the utility of deploying flowcharts in aid of workflow management.

Extended, complex systems and expansive work processes require a special category of flowchart diagrams. Swimlane diagrams help organizations and planners to drive workflow management by charting multiple roles that contribute to the completion of a business process. These flowcharts can depict the organization of activities within an organization in terms of departments, divisions, and functions. For instance, the designers of a modern supply chain system can construct a swimlane flowchart to depict the various moving parts within said process. All the stakeholders and actors within said system, feature prominently inside the swimlane diagram, thereby creating an image of a work system that proceeds from one stage to the next. Functions that must be driven by collaboration deserve special mention because these areas spotlight the efficiency of workflow management inside the swimlane diagram. In addition, said diagram spotlights the connections, lines of communication, and hand-offs that animate the depicted process. Some process experts have labeled the swimlane flowchart as a cross-functional diagram.

Certain situations may necessitate the creation of low-level workflow management tools in the form of process flowcharts. The term ‘low-level’ implies that the diagram does not depict every intricacy associated with a business process or business operation. This form of a flowchart diagram is useful when a business operator addresses the initial queries of external stakeholders and industry regulators. The designers of such flowcharts may incorporate a variety of devices such as the creation of legends, color coding, and additional notes in a bid to impart greater meaning to the flowchart diagram. In addition, digital illustrators may add zoom features for the benefit of observers, examiners, and reviewers. This instance of deploying flowcharts in the service of workflow management demonstrates the utility of creating varying grades of granularity inside these inter-linked diagrams.

Modern workflow management systems must integrate with digital cloud technologies in keeping with the demands of commerce. Flowcharts that depict said systems may place the cloud at the center of the diagram. Every other artifact, object, and stage depicted inside the flowchart must connect to the cloud; this configuration of workflow management systems allows readers and reviewers to appreciate the importance of digital storage and always-on connectivity. Additional sections of said flowchart may describe the impact of scaling business processes on the digital cloud. This may emerge as a dense, technical dialogue, but helps us to appreciate the fact that minute changes inside a process depend on connectivity with the cloud at all times.

In addition to the above, flowcharts can be deployed to examine additional aspects of workflow management; these include process mining, process analytics, process optimization, and business process re-engineering. The inter-linked and flexible architecture of the modern flowchart diagram allows organizations and business operators to analyze the frequency of tasks, conduct statistical analyses, monitor process execution, and to improve business performance by eliminating locations of waste inside business processes. The outcomes of these actions boost productivity, improve business outcomes, and improve business bottom lines. In addition, the inclusion of numbers and values inside a flowchart allow these diagrams to act as computing devices that lead the way to smarter, more efficient processes.

The above paragraphs outline the criticality of using flowcharts to animate workflow management systems and processes. The intelligent use and application of said diagrams empowers humankind to hold an analytical lens to a wide range of situations, problems, events, processes, and sub-processes. These diagrams and their usage are undergoing evolution in terms of expanding the scope of analyses. In time, flowcharts may emerge as the building blocks of radically new systems and processes. Modern organizations should therefore invest time and effort in the pursuit of refining this analytical framework with a view to gain the first-mover advantage.

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