How to Create a Workflow Chart

Workflow charts, sometimes called workflow diagrams, show business process and tasks in an easy-to-understand visual. A chart that is well-designed provides a clear illustration of an end goal and all the critical stages of the process that lead to that result. With an accurate workflow chart, all the participants of a task are able to maintain an efficient system that keeps them on the same page at all times. This efficiency can then improve the overall business productivity.

Most workflow charts are created using software such as Microsoft Word, Excel or Visio. However, there are many charts that designed with simple paper-and-pencil methods as well. Whether producing a digital chart or not, creating a workflow chart must begin with a goal and some basic preparation.

1. Start with a Goal

A useful workflow chart must have an end goal. Business leaders should first decide what they hope to accomplish with the chart. For example, the goal could be to design a process for handling new incoming business. The chart could visually graph how a new client is welcomed and how and in what order the new business would be handled by various departments. This is just one example of possible workflow chart purposes, but there are a wide variety of different uses for this type of diagram.

2. Determine the Complexity

Workflow processes can be simple or complex, only requiring a few simple steps for efficiency or passing through many people or departments before completion. When designing an accurate workflow chart, it may become necessary to create a hierarchical set of processes and sub-processes, possibly even with peripheral options. This type of chart will be more complex, but having this chart on hand can improve efficiency in the workplace by streamlining and eliminating unnecessary steps.

3. List the Nouns and Verbs

By thinking about the particular process that will be charted, it is necessary to consider the list of nouns and verbs that will complete the system. Some words that are commonly used in workflow charts include: client, customer, phone call, account access, customer service representative, database, inventory, communication, approval, rejection and submit. These nouns and verbs will vary according to the process being charted and the people that will be involved.

4. Plot the Nouns and Verbs

With a list of necessary nouns and verbs in hand, it is time to begin plotting them in order to create the workflow chart. The starting place of the process should be drawn at the top of the paper, or at the beginning of the software page, and nouns and verbs should be listed in consecutive order from that point.

5. Use Symbols and Connectors

Most workflow charts utilize symbols and connectors to help indicate specific process steps and functions. Although each business can decide which symbols and colors will best work for its company, there are some generally accepted shapes. For example, ovals are typically used for starting and ending positions, while diamonds indicate specific decisions in the process, and rectangles symbolize instructions. Connectors are then used to draw lines from each study or process to the next. These connectors usually feature arrows that clearly indicate which direction the work is flowing on the chart.

6. Create Decision Diamonds

Because diamonds typically symbolize the need for a decision, they are one of the most crucial aspects of the workflow chart. Each decision could lead to more than one result, and the workflow chart must take all possible outcomes into consideration. This means that connector lines from each decision diamond should lead to separate possible results. This is where workflow charts can become significantly more complicated by adding side processes.

7. Test the Chart

Once all the different shapes and connectors have been completed on the workflow chart, it is time to test it. Several different members of the business should carefully consider the chart, running a hypothetical scenario to test the chart’s accuracy. Once it has been decided that the workflow chart is efficient and complete, it may be necessary to convert it to a shareable or printable version that can be distributed throughout the business. Everyone involved in the process should have access to the workflow chart; otherwise, the usefulness of the chart is void.