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Flowchart: How to do it

The Quality Toolbook > Flowchart > How to do it

When to use it | How to understand it | Example | How to do it | Practical variations


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How to do it

  1. Identify the process which is to be mapped. There are several ways this may be discovered:
    • It has an identifiable purpose. A good test of this is to find a realistic name for the process.
    • It has an overall owner, often the lowest level person who has responsibility for the complete process. For cross-functional processes, this is likely to be a senior manager.
    • It has identifiable customers and suppliers (these may be people or just other processes).
  1. Gather the team who are to work on describing the process. These should include people who are intimately involved in all parts of the process, to ensure that it gets described as it actually happens, rather than an idealized view.
  2. Agree on a standard symbol set to use, for example as in Table 1. Alternatively, a company standard may be available. It is important to agree a standard as there are several conflicting common uses (for example, a circle can be a delay, an operation, assistance, an on-page connector or a terminator).

Table 1. Common flowchart symbols


Symbol Name Meaning
  Terminator Start or end of process.
  Action A single activity.
  Wait A delay (a lack of activity).
  Decision A yes/no decision.
  Sub-process 'Contains' another process Flowchart.
  Connector Connects to another similar box on another page.
  1. Draw a 'start' terminator box at the top of the work area.
  2. Add the first box below the start box, identifying the first action simply by asking, 'What happens first?'. Add an appropriate box around it.
    Add subsequent boxes below the previous box, identifying each action by asking, 'What happens next?'. Draw an arrow from the previous box to this one.


    Points to note when building the Flowchart include:

    • Keep the descriptions short and simple. Use a brief phrase rather than a complete sentence. A verb-noun phrase is often useful, saying what is being done to what. For example, 'Check customer satisfaction,' rather than, 'Investigate the level of customer satisfaction using the F3 survey system'.
    • Maintain a consistent level of detail. For example, do not go from, 'Fix television' to 'Replace line output transformer' in the same Flowchart.
    • Aim to keep the Flowchart within one page. This can be useful in helping to restrain the level of detail. Typically this will result in around three to twelve boxes.
    • Identify and include the key decisions in the process.
    • Try to use consistent directions out of decision boxes for the 'yes' and 'no' lines. This can help prevent misinterpretation by people reading the Flowchart later.
    • Aim to make the main flow of the diagram flow from top to bottom, with digressions going off to the right. Branch left only for loops back up and when the right is already occupied. Generally aim for a clockwise flow, but not at the cost of clarity.
    • Have only one 'end' box.
  1. If the final diagram is to be used as a part of a formal system, make sure that it is uniquely identified. This may include:
    • The name of this process, plus any other unique identification, such as a number from a hierarchical numbering system.
    • An identification of the parent process (if it exists), for example by name or number.
    • The name of the person or group who drew the chart.
    • The owner of chart plus their job title.
    • The version number of the chart.
    • The date the chart was last changed.
  1. Use the consequent diagram as planned. This might be one or more of:
    • Identification of measurement points. Typically this will be around critical actions such as input/output or expensive actions.
    • Identification of potential problems. Common places for these to occur are around decisions or any form of communication between people.
    • Looking for actions that are missing, wrong or unnecessary.
    • Inclusion in a quality management system as a formal description of the process.



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