Why Companies Look to Flowcharts for Process Improvement Help
We’re a finger-pointing culture. When things go wrong, we tend to look for someone to blame. However, it is often the process, rather than the people, responsible for undesirable results. This concept from the Shingo Model suggests that understanding our processes is the key to solving problems, making decisions, and creating a more successful business. To guide your journey of dissecting processes, recruit the help of a flowchart for a detailed picture of every step.
What is a flowchart?
A flowchart is a visual representation of the flow of steps in a process or system. Using a variety of shapes and arrows, these charts follow the flow and sequence of events from start to finish. By mapping out the actions, results, and roles involved in a process, flowcharts can transform a complicated process into a clear roadmap.
Multiple industries have come to adopt the flowchart as a tool for assisting with their professional goals. Whether you need help designing a process, quality control, making difficult decisions, or planning for the future, there is a flowchart for you.
How can a flowchart help my team?
A flowchart is more than just a pretty picture. This diverse tool has so much to offer those ready to help their company thrive. Here are some of the ways that a flowchart can help your team.
Perfect a process.
In order to implement a seamless process, you need to see what steps are currently in place and determine what steps need to be in place. A flowchart helps you visualize the many moving pieces of a process so you can revamp parts that need improvement and eliminate those that lack value.
Pinpoint bottlenecks and unproductivity.
A flowchart can uncover a lot of different forms of waste . The visual nature of the chart helps you identify the flaws and/or barriers in a process so you can use precious time and resources more efficiently. You can also determine which steps could lead to undesirable results.
Better utilize team members.
Visualizing the process reveals where different talents and expertise can best be utilized. As you recognize who is doing what, when they are doing it, and how long it takes to perform an action, you can better delegate assignments and prevent work about work . Collaborating with your team to create a flowchart helps them see and appreciate one another’s roles while instilling accountability for their own responsibilities.
Plan ahead for potential changes.
Business processes usually don’t go exactly as planned. There are so many variables that can alter the flow of a process (e.g., equipment failure, supply chain issues, changing industry trends, stock prices, or differing consumer needs). However, it’s possible to prepare for the worst with some research and planning. Teams can document how they will respond to certain situations and which decisions to make. Flowcharts help companies work through potential stumbling blocks and stand ready to face the unforeseen.
How do you use a flowchart?
To help your team “go with the flow,” you need to first determine what that flow is. This starts by choosing a flowchart format that will help your company develop effective processes and decisions. Consider which of these flowchart options best suits your company’s needs.
A workflow map transforms a complex, multi-step work process into a simple visual display. The process steps are broken into digestible pieces that capture the actions performed, the results of those actions, and who is involved in each step from start to finish.
Adding swimlanes to a flowchart is the best way to see who is doing what. Just as swimlanes in a pool create order and clarity, the horizontal or vertical swimlanes in a flowchart differentiate the specific actions of individual roles in a process. This is done by assigning a row or column to anyone who touches the process (e.g., specific people, departments, or even systems). You then map the process out according to who does what.
A decision tree is a chart that breaks down possible scenarios and results to help you weigh your options and make an objective decision. Starting with a complex problem, a decision tree flows through the decisions you may encounter and the outcome of those choices. So when a problem arises, you can simply follow the map to know which route to take. Many find it helpful to include probability or monetary values within the decision points to help determine the cost-benefit of certain choices.
Creating your own flowchart
Regardless of the type of flowchart you choose to create, there are just a few simple steps required to make your flowchart a reality.
- Determine your end goal
What are you trying to achieve by creating a flowchart? Do you want to improve a process? Better utilize team talent? Make your purpose known to those involved in the mapping process to keep everyone on the same page.
- Study the process
Review the process from start to finish. This might require interviewing the people involved, physically watching a process, or reading supporting documents and data (or all of the above). Take note of who, or which system, was involved at each step, how long a step took, and if there were issues along the way. When applicable, you may want to watch a process multiple times to see if certain actions caused a change in the workflow.
- Consider possible changes in flow
Flowcharts are a great tool for those who want to prepare for any possibility. Conduct research by analyzing issues that your company, or competitors, dealt with in the past. If a process primarily involves customers, get to know their flow of actions with focus groups, surveys, or customer observations. Include the possible situations or actions you gathered on your flowchart to address how your company would respond.
- Choose a flowchart format and start mapping
Whether you design a chart using markers and sticky notes or go digital with an interactive whiteboard or template, create a visual record of the process. Some teams may choose to assign standard flowchart symbols to chart item categories (like decisions, process steps, outputs, etc.) or simply distinguish them with certain colors or shapes. Whichever route you choose, stay consistent with your visuals.
- Identify problems, wastes, and opportunities
Review your flowchart as a team and pinpoint areas that need attention. Do you see recurring issues that need to be addressed? Do you find signs of waste throughout the process (e.g., time, talent, over-processing)? On the other hand, you may see opportunities for growth or improving marketing efforts. If efficiency is what you’re after, you can make a list of whether or not an action is necessary or positive using a habits scorecard . There’s a lot you can learn about your company’s present and future by reviewing a flowchart.
- Bonus step: Design a best-case scenario flowchart
Help your team understand what a perfect process should look like. Redesign your initial flowchart with the steps and decisions that would yield the best outcomes. Once this chart is complete, design company protocols and procedures around the expectations present in your flowchart. Obviously, this may not apply to every scenario as change happens rapidly. But a lot of good comes from mutually sharing an understanding of the “who,” “what,” and “when” involved in a process.
Ways to use a flowchart
Every industry has decisions to make and processes to capture and improve. Here are some of the ways that different professionals use flowcharts to succeed in their industry.
UX or Product Designer
- Capture the user’s experience with a product
- Document the design process of a product or service
- Chart research strategies
- Record the process for designing a structure or product
- Assign duties to those involved in bringing a design to life
- Help colleagues understand complicated processes
- Follow the steps a user takes to purchase something
- Document the plans to follow should a PR crisis arise
- Design the format of a lecture or presentation
- Lay out the steps for a research project (the roots of scientific inquiry starts with a flowchart)
- Display a legal process, like the life of a case
- Share the process of training new hires
- Map out the plan for treating medical patients
- Record your personal habits to help you create an identity that brings you joy and meaning
- Create a step-by-step strategy for becoming debt-free
Let Vibe’s innovative tools help you design the most effective processes. With all the bells and whistles for those working in remote or in-person settings, the Vibe whiteboard is the perfect addition to your team. Check out a Vibe demo and explore the ways that Vibe can help you today.