Every project could benefit from a flowchart. For entrepreneurs, flowcharts serve as invaluable, uncomplicated tools. Not only do they help to chart a project’s flow, but they can also serve as a source of education and cohesion for your team.
What is a flowchart, and how do you use it?
A flowchart is a diagram that illustrates how a process works, or “flows.” Its main purpose is to provide a simple, visual representation of a set of actions or relationships. A basic flowchart consists of shapes connected by lines or arrows.
A flowchart typically reads from top to bottom and left to right, making it easy to follow the path of information. While the simplest charts depict a linear process that flows in one direction, complex diagrams have many steps branching in multiple directions.
You can use a flowchart to diagram almost any process. Let’s say your business uses specific protocols to process client forms. A basic linear flowchart might include simple, sequential steps: review forms, verify ID, obtain a signature, process request. A complex flowchart would consider multiple scenarios and branch off based on the correct response to each step in the process. For example, you might have an alternative verification process with several steps if a client doesn’t have an ID.
So, why does this matter? Flowcharts help create consistency when groups of people are involved in a single process.
Keeping everyone on the same page is key. Visual representations can simplify information, making your team less likely to misinterpret or forget it. And if something goes wrong, visuals allow you to quickly review a process and consider essential actions you may have overlooked.
Types of flowcharts to choose from
You and your team can use many kinds of flowcharts to improve your business. No matter which you choose, visualizing and analyzing different parts of your workflow will lead to improvements that save time and increase productivity.
The following flowcharts are a great place to start. It’s up to you, the entrepreneur, to determine which ones suit your needs best. As you’ll discover, each flowchart suits a particular situation. Remember that one diagram doesn’t fit all.
- Document Flowcharts show the controls over document-flow through the components of a system (i.e. through various business units).
- Data Flowcharts show the controls over data-flow in a system (i.e. the channels that transmit data).
- System Flowcharts show the physical controls of data-flow through the components of a system (i.e. programs, servers, processors, and communication networks).
- Program Flowcharts show the controls in a program within a system.
- Swimlane Flowcharts depict who does what in cross-team processes.
- Workflow Flowcharts document office workflows, often involving tasks, documents, and information.
- Event-Driven Process Chain (EPC) Flowcharts document a business process.
- Specification and Description Language (SDL) Flowcharts brainstorm computer algorithms using three basic components: system definition, block, and process.
Notice that the type of flowchart is determined by the kind of control, rather than the flow itself.
The benefits of using flowcharts for entrepreneurs
Flowcharts provide entrepreneurs and teams with a wealth of information. This information can improve a single project or the company as a whole. Regardless of which chart you choose, the benefits for your business are immense.
Connect ideas and plans
When bringing together ideas from different people and teams, it’s important to ensure that all processes and steps work towards a common goal. Because a flowchart requires you to detail a process from start to finish, it makes it easier to recognize redundant, disparate, or even contradictory parts of your process. Comparing your original ideas to your actual plans and processes can also bring to light areas in need of improvement.
Most importantly, once problematic areas are recognized, they can be fixed. With a flowchart in clear view, you can address all questions to ensure the team moves forward cohesively. Leaders and team members alike benefit from spelling out their work in such a way. In doing so, it aligns your entire team’s vision from the top down.
Create continuous improvements
Flowcharts aren’t a one-and-done exercise. They can be used to improve your work processes again and again. Diagrams make it much easier to vet new processes and ideas to ensure they fit within your current system. When they don’t, they provide you with a map for what else needs to be changed to ensure seamless integration. Now, instead of just aligning ideas, your flowcharts are also proactively solving foreseeable problems.
But flowcharts aren’t perfect. Sometimes, unexpected problems arise when a process isn’t fully detailed. Luckily, if you have a chart already created, you can use it to assess each step of your process to discover what pieces weren’t thoroughly assessed.
Develop additional strategies
The benefits of flowcharts extend beyond project efficiency. In fact, diagrams allow entrepreneurs to locate opportunities in sales, marketing, product development, and much more. Identifying areas of strength are great ways to inspire new strategies.
Once you decide which areas of your flow you’d like to expand, you can use your chart to detail the steps necessary to achieve success.
Establish best practices and training materials
You should never discard a flowchart once a project is over. That’s because a flowchart not only identifies areas of improvement for a project, it becomes a viable teaching tool for you and your team.
Early entrepreneurs and companies use their diagrams to create best practices from their most successful projects. Compile your flowcharts for team discoveries and education. Use them to educate other teams and get new hires up to speed. There’s so much more to get out of your flowcharts than just their initial use.
Ready to create a flowchart?
If you haven’t already, now is the time to incorporate flowcharts into your processes. Entrepreneurs especially benefit from diagrams, which can shape workflows and company methods for years to come. Whether used as a one-project tool or a lifelong example, flowcharts bring efficiency and clarity to teams and improve processes for the better going forward.
This post was originally published on February 13, 2018, and updated most recently on December 20, 2021.