Flow charts have been popular for quite some time now. They are incredibly useful. Flow charts are use for various purposes. If you want to learn more about a flow chart, then, you have come to the right place as this is the ultimate guide to a flow chart. By the time you finish reading this comprehensive guide, you will know everything about a flow chart, its definition, history, symbols, purposes, and more. So, what are you waiting for? Read on to learn more about flow charts.


Definition of a Flow Chart

In the simplest of words, a flow chart is a diagram which depicts a system or process. It is widely used for different purposes as it helps communicate complex ideas. Flow charts are used for planning, studying, documenting, and more. They are easy to understand diagrams which are used around the globe. A flow chart makes use of diamonds, ovals, rectangles, and various other shapes to define a process. Different shapes and arrows come together to explain a step-by-step procedure. Flow charts range from simple diagrams to comprehensive software-generated diagrams which depict multiple routes and steps.

Flow charts are the most commonly used form of diagram in the world. They are used by technical and non-technical people. Moreover, flow charts are often referred to by their more specialized names like Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN), Business Process Mapping, Functional Flowchart, Process Map, Process Flowchart, and Process Flow Diagram (PFD).


History of Flow Charts

Flow charts were first used in the 1920s for documenting business processes. Industrial engineers Lillian and Frank Gilbert introduced the concept of a flow process chart in the year 1921 to the ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers). Allan H. Morgenstern is an industrial engineer who used is as a tool in the early 1930s to present conferences for conducting more efficient work. Flow charts were later introduced by students of Morgenstern in the 1940s and they quickly became popular. It was during this time that flow charts were introduced to Procter and Gamble as a work simplification method. The flow process charts were adapted by a director at Standard Register Industrial for information processing. A symbol system was adopted by the ASME in the year 1947.

In the late 1940s, flow charts were used to develop computer programs. This led to diagramming becoming widely common for all types of algorithms and computer programs. Flow charts are used to this day for programming. They were used in Japan as a tool for quality control.


Common Flow Chart Symbols

There are different flow chart symbols and each symbol has a different meaning. The most widely used flow chart symbols are mentioned as below.

  • Process: It is a rectangular flow chart shape that indicates a regular process flow step.
  • Terminator: It is an oval flow chart shape that indicates the beginning or end of a process.
  • Decision: This is denoted by a diamond flow chart shape. It indicates a branch to the process flow.
  • Data: It is represented by a parallelogram and indicates data output or input of the process.
  • Connector: It is a circular, labeled, small flow chart shape which indicates a jump in process flow.
  • Document: It indicates a report or document.


Types of Flow Charts

When it comes to flow charts, they are available in a wide variety. Some of the most popular types of flow charts are mentioned below.

  • Decision flows
  • Yes/ No flow charts
  • Process flow diagrams
  • Work flow diagrams
  • Influence diagrams
  • Data flow diagrams
  • Swim lane flow charts


Why Are Flow Charts Used?

There are various reasons why flow charts are used. Some of the main reasons why they are used are mentioned below.

  • For clarifying complex processes.
  • To identify which steps do not add value to the external or internal customer like communication breakdown, added expenses, duplication, unnecessary work, needless transportation and storage, and delays.
  • For helping team members gain an understanding into the process and using the knowledge from the flow chart for identifying resources, focusing on fruitful discussions, identifying issues, and collecting data.
  • Can be used as a basis for the development of new processes.

Besides just computer programming, flow charts are used in many different fields to analyze and document a process, standardize the process for higher quality and efficiency, communicating the process, and the identification of bottlenecks. Flow charts are used today in just about every field, from technology to engineering to architecture, business, administration, government, medicine, science, and education.


How to Make a Flowchart

If you are considering making a flow chart, then, you should keep in mind that there are a number of ways to make a flow chart. In the past, flow charts used to be made by hand with just a pencil and piece of paper. However, it used to take a lot of time to design a flow chart. But, these days, you can use flow chart software to quickly create a flow chart. The following steps will help you plan and design a flow chart.

  • Define the purpose and scope: The first thing that you need to do before making the flow chart is to define the purpose and scope of the flow chart. Ask yourself what you want to accomplish from the flow chart and what its purpose is.
  • Identify tasks according to chronological order: Since a flow chart follows a chronological order, you need to identify all the tasks according to chronological order. Observe the different process and write down the steps.
  • Organize the steps: The next thing that you need to do is organize the different steps.
  • Draw the flow chart: Once you have organized all the steps, you can start drawing the chart using a program or by hand.
  • Confirm the flowchart: After the flow chart has been drawn, you need to review it and confirm if it has properly incorporated all the elements and steps.