Understanding the Levels of Flowcharting Processes

level of flowcharting process

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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 used in software development, various businesses are using this method to draw a clear course of action. There are various tools for creating flowcharts. With interactive decision trees, customer service teams can create self-service flowcharts and deliver the right information to customers.

While clarity is one of the key factors, the various levels of flowcharting processes help maintain standard symbols and streamline the task. Now, this makes a flowchart, the most preferred tool. It’s suitable when analyzing a process, identifying potential issues, measuring performance, as well as a communication or training aid.

Computer Aided Design technology enhances the process flow diagrams. They are split into different stages. 

Levels of flowcharting processes 

Macro Level or Workflow diagrams

This initial stage of the levels of flowcharting comprises not more than 6 steps. It provides 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 their roles and complete the assigned tasks in a systematic manner. Here, they understand the roles and responsibilities of other teams and how they relate to each other. The employees then try to build a rapport with other team members to ensure cohesiveness.

Organizers or departmental heads are able to identify a key issue in one or two steps at this basic stage. It helps to eliminate discrepancies. Hence, it reduces the time spent on drawing out the entire flow.

A workflow diagram comprises three components:

  1. Input: Equipment or information required to complete the step, which includes, labor and capital.
  2. Transformation: Change of ownership or purpose, location, or physical characteristics that affect the output.
  3. Output: The outcome of the transformation.

Workflow diagrams originated from the manufacturing industry. They are now used across various industries, and technology has made them easier to create.  Some industries that use workflow diagrams are e-commerce, medical, military, finance, and education.

Mini Level or Swim Lane Flowchart

You can also refer to this level as the cross-functional activity level or the Swim Lane Maps. It dives into the details of the 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. They separate individuals or the various units of an organization.

Horizontal lanes seem more practical on computers, as the screens are often wider. They provide details of the interaction between each segment within their respective lanes. The cross-functional activity level highlights the job done by every individual at each stage. It is split based on the division, responsibility, department, or function.

This also shows the interconnection of some steps between the lanes. It displays 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 plays a significant part in the process. It shows the activity, role, or participant and their accountabilities at various steps. The Business Process Diagrams comprise three other elements:

  1. Flow objects that comprise events, activities, and gateways
  2. Connecting objects that are a sequence or message flow and association
  3. Artifacts like data objects, groups, and annotation

Micro level or Process Flowchart

The Micro level uses a more complex diagram in comparison to the Swim Lane Maps. It’s referred to as a process flowchart or system flow diagram. Often used in manufacturing, administrative, or service processes.

While it’s used in mapping out the roles and responsibilities within the organization, it is not limited to an individual department or function. It draws the entire activity or organization flow. This diagram usually flows from left to right, with arrows showing the direction of the flow.

Application of process flow diagrams

Process flow diagrams are best suitable for 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 teamwork through communication, ensuring that everyone is on the same page.

The process flow diagrams for multiple units at a plant are brief. They merely become an overview and do not get into details.  Such diagrams are known as schematic flow diagrams or block flow diagrams. 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. It 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. Designers can use them to produce a product or service using a variety of drawing tools. They comprise information regarding the equipment, process sequence, process and utility piping, bypass lines, instruments, valves, vents, drains, and other items.

Reasons for using flowcharts

A flowchart that has been developed well in the design phase can help save the 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.

Whether you are a sole creator with various roles and responsibilities or one of the several members of 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:

  1. Decide the main aim of your diagram and the length of it
  2. Clearly define the processes and their boundaries
  3. Chalk out each step from the beginning to the end
  4. Define activities and individual roles at every step
  5. Draw arrows to demonstrate the flow of work
  6. 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

In Conclusion

There is no ‘ideal’ detailed flowchart. Although this may seem ambiguous, flowcharting is not really too difficult. The only question or thought in the mind of the flowchart designer is whether to draw the results from the flowchart. The answer to this should decide the level to use and whether the right ‘amount’ of detail is present in the flowchart. One can add or take off details depending on the needed results. We hope that these steps were helpful enough to make your flowcharting process easier.

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