How to Create a Basic Flow Chart

Updated on March 2, 2018
Joshua Crowder profile image

Joshua has work experience in aerospace/aluminum manufacturing & distribution. He received his BBA in accounting from Kent State University.

Flow Chart Planning

Creating a flowchart for a process is easy. You just have to have the right tools and a little imagination. To download a spreadsheet with flowchart tools click here. The file contains all of the basic symbols that most professional will be able to read and understand. There are over 80 symbols that you could use, but there's no use in learning them if your viewers don't know what they stand for. So having said that, the file contains the most popular symbols. Before starting, you really just have to know how descriptive you want to be. Charting large processes with a lot of details can be painstaking. Drawing a chart a few times by hand before using electronic tools is recommended.

Direction of Flow

When you start a process there is a rounded rectangle that called a terminal that gives your user a queue. The best place to start your process is by placing your start terminal in the upper left-hand corner of your chart. There aren't any real rules of how you have to create flow charts, but I have found it best to start a process in the upper left-hand corner and ending the process in the bottom right-hand corner of the chart area.

Direction of Flow

Starting from the top left area and moving to the right bottom area shows a clear flow for the activity. Some people use a top down approach and that's okay as long as it's consistent.
Starting from the top left area and moving to the right bottom area shows a clear flow for the activity. Some people use a top down approach and that's okay as long as it's consistent.

Flowchart Lanes

When creating a flowchart you don't really want your data to be all over the place. Items within your process are going to be easier to understand if you group them together. Below is an example of a flowchart being separated by "lanes." While it's not mandatory, and at times will be tough to follow, using the lanes will keep your chart organized.

Flowchart Lanes

Start, Stop, and Transition Symbols

To start a flowchart you need to have a terminal. This symbol starts the flow process as well as stops it. There is really no other reasons to have more than two terminals.

You may get to a point where you can't fit anymore charting data on one page. At this point, you would use an off-page connector. So instead of using a terminal to end the process, you use an off-page connector and a reference to it like "a". When you start on your next page, reference that off-page connector with the "a" with another off-page connector. The reference will help you identify where to pick up again.

Anon-page connector works the same, but is used when there is not enough room on one page to draw an arrow to another part of the process. In this case you skip the arrow and use an on page connector reference to get you closer to the other part of the process. One example is if you have several processes that save to a disk, but the disk is located at the top of the page when your processes that need saved are all on the bottom of the page. In this situation it may be a good idea to use the on page connector to keep lines from confusing other parts of your processes.

Start, Stop and Transition Symbols

These are the only symbols that can represent a start or end point.
These are the only symbols that can represent a start or end point.

Lines

The lines are what you use to connect your symbols. A straight line represents going from one part of the process to another. A straight line only moves in one direct and never implies back flowing through the process. →

There is also a bi-directional line and communications link and they both have two arrows. The bi-directional line shows a process that can go in either direction or back and forth. You may use a bidirectional line to save a computer program to disk, but point back to where you were so the process can be continued. The communications link shows a line of communication whether from computer to computer, computer to server. phone to phone, fax to phone or even person to person.

Lines

Storage Symbols

Below are the symbols that represent some type of storage. The disk is used when you are saving some type of computer process as stated earlier.

Another storage symbol is the tape and mostly referred to as the sequential data symbol. This is used for backing up a server. Usually, the tape is considered a backup disc that is removed for safe storage or a disk that is used to recover information. You could actually reference a flash drive with this symbol.

The triangle symbol with the flat side up is for manual file storage. You would indicate inside the triangle how the files are sorted (eg. "A" for alphabetically, "N" by name).

Storage Symbols

Process Symbols

A rectangle symbol laying on the long side represents a computerized process. You would want to use this symbol when any type of program-driven task is used. If that task involves saving, then the computer process should be updating a disk. The trapezoid serves as a manual process. This could be any physical action such as an inspection or task that requires movement. The diamond shape is for decision making. You must make sure that you place you yes/no and arrows in the proper positions.

Process Symbols

Input Output Symbols

Lastly, we have the symbols that represent input and output data. You have the opportunity to move a single document or multiple documents through the process. The trapezium represents a keyed input. This really does take the shape of a keyboard and represent any keyed data entries.

Input Output Symbols

Example 1 Explanation

The example below shows a process that represents the life of an order in a company selling distributing plastic resin. As you can see, the lane that was discussed earlier keep the process organized by letting the user of the document know where they are in the process.

Example 1 Flow Chart

This process was written for plastic resin distribution order processing.  When problems arise and the process does not meet an end point, it remains reciprocal until an order is completed.
This process was written for plastic resin distribution order processing. When problems arise and the process does not meet an end point, it remains reciprocal until an order is completed.

Example 2 Explanation

Example 2 shows a process from the same company. In more detail, this chart shows the exact steps taken to start a customer quote within the CRM system. As you can see the process is continued on another page with an off-page connector.

Example 2 Flow Chart

In Conclusion

I hope you were able to benefit from this short tutorial. I didn't want to give too many of my rules because flow charting shouldn't have too many restrictions. Your job is to make the process apparent on paper so your audience knows what's going on in your head. Having said that, keep your flowcharts simple unless people need more details. There is nothing worse than employees spending time on charts that nobody will take the time to learn. Okay, there is worse...

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Joshua Crowder

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