What is a flow chart?
Flow charts give people a way to visually depict a process or system using shapes or a combination of shapes and words. They can range from quick, hand-drawn pictures to robust, computer-generated diagrams that break down complex ideas into digestible, easy-to-understand pieces. In addition, technical and non-technical people in virtually any field can use flow charts.
They’re particularly useful in a variety of situations including:
- Documenting and analyzing processes
- Developing computer software or networks
- Communicating or standardizing processes
- Identifying redundancies, roadblocks and inefficiencies in processes
- Creating a plan or structure for a new project, department or business
- Planning project work with multiple stakeholders
- Understanding how users navigate a website or store
- Illustrating a manufacturing process
- Creating a new product or service
Flow chart benefits
Along with the ability to work in almost any scenario, flow charts offer a wide range of benefits, including:
A flow chart can be a boon as it provides a visual of how a product or service should work, how a project should flow, or how a network can function before it’s built. By allowing you to identify dependencies, efficiencies, staffing needs and other variables that could impact your project later, flow charts can help you save time and money.
With a flow chart maker, you can save all your files digitally, distribute them almost instantly, and even create a library of flow chart templates. This way, your files will always be accessible, your teams can stay up to date, your company can stay compliant and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel next time you need to design a similar chart.
Flow charts make every detail clear, which can help teams quickly understand the tasks at hand, when and by whom. This information can mean fewer meetings, fielding fewer questions and give everyone more time for work. Flow charts are also helpful with informational manuals or even onboarding employees. Essentially, flow charts add context to instruction sets, and bring greater efficiency for recurring tasks.
Online flow chart templates make it easy to get started quickly. And with simple customizations, streamlined collaboration and built-in version control, you can create exactly what your organization needs, seek input at every stage and will always know where the latest and greatest files are.
Types of flow charts
Although flow charts can be used to explain just about anything, most people use them for one of three reasons: to inform decisions, show processes or to visualize data—which is why most flow chart templates fall into one of those three categories. So, let’s take a look at what each type of flow chart entails and when and why to use them.
1. Decision tree
Think of a decision tree like an “if this, then that” flow chart. By allowing you to create a map of possible outcomes based on a specific set of choices, a decision tree can help you see a path clearly and weigh your options.
Decision trees usually begin with a single node (the question), then branch into two options (decisions), then those options lead to additional nodes (possible outcomes). Because of their nature, decision trees are especially good at highlighting probabilities and benefits and can even be used to design algorithms that help predict outcomes.
2. Process flow chart
By giving you the power to diagram and analyze the flow of activities when producing a product or service, a process flow chart can help you find gaps and redundancies in your process, identify where specific resources, equipment or people are needed, reveal potential bottlenecks or problem areas, and uncover possible efficiencies.
Along with outlining how an activity should function, or the provisions of a product or service, process flow charts can also onboard new employees, train existing teams or help outside vendors or consultants understand your business and where they fit in.
3. Data flow chart
When you need to take a deep dive into your data, a data flow diagram can help. By using symbols and short text labels to show data inputs, outputs, storage points and pathways, they can condense information into a graphic representation of what may be difficult to verbalize. And, because tech teams and non-technical stakeholders can use them, they’re a great option when you have to present to a broad audience.
Flow chart tips
Making a flow chart, especially when using a flow chart template is simple, but making a great flow chart takes a little more thought. So, let’s look at some tips for creating a flow chart that not only informs but looks spectacular.
- Make your diagrams easy to read. Create your flow chart with the end-user in mind means making sure it’s layout and composition helps your audience knows where to look first and where to look next. By adjusting your alignment as needed, using proper grammar, clear titles, and avoiding jargon, you can ensure your diagram is user-friendly. (Hint: When in doubt, test it out on someone unfamiliar with your project.)
- Be consistent. When you use shapes, fonts, colors and naming conventions consistently throughout the flow chart, your audience can follow along easier.
- Use contrast. Using colors consistently is fundamental, but you don’t want to use the same color or color family for every shape. By using distinct colors, you can make steps or actions more prominent. And by using font colors that stand out from the background, your diagram will be easier to read.
- Use an online flow chart maker. With templates, built-in version control, easy collaboration and the option to edit them anytime, they can help you test out designs and create and manage your diagrams on your schedule.
Integrate your flow chart
Whether you need to make a decision, explain a process, or share data with your CEO, embedding flow charts into other business applications and communication tools can further enhance productivity. By using a flow chart maker and productivity tools, you can pull content for your diagrams from all your go-to sources, including documents, files and social media sites.
Also, you might consider integrating your flow charts with business intelligence (BI) tools, allowing you and your team to interact with your data and tell a better story. With embedded flow charts and BI tools, you can turn data into engaging visuals, create interactive reports, explore data granularly, and gain insights that make fast, informed decisions possible.
There are so many new ways to create flow charts and bring innovation to your business. To learn more, check out this step-by-step guide for automating flow charts from structured data in spreadsheets, and take a deep dive into modern flow chart tools.