Guide to Understanding Flowcharts

What is a flowchart?

Flowcharts are a visual representation of processes or workflows. Arrows connect ideas in workflows, showing the process's proper order or flow. Flowcharts create a visual reference for a process by clearly showing how each idea or step leads to the next.

Flowcharts can be simple or complex. For example, a simple one might have one set of ideas, one main path, and one endpoint. Complex flowcharts can have many ideas, multiple diverging paths, and several different endpoints.

These charts are popular for personal and professional projects, with uses across various industries and fields.

Types of flowcharts

There are multiple types of flowcharts, each with unique features and ideal use cases. The main types of flowcharts include:

Decision flowchart

Decision flowcharts help you map out potential paths and outcomes related to a decision you have to make. Laying out the entire scenario and various consequences in a visual format can help you make a more informed decision. Decision flowcharts are often used in project planning, research, and product development.

Decision Flowchart

Logic flowchart

Logic flowcharts are typically used as a planning tool in computer programming. Before writing the actual code, a programmer will create a logic flowchart to model the program's expected process and outcome. Logic flowcharts are especially useful for complex programming.

System flowchart

System flowcharts show how data travels through a system and how different decisions are made at various points along the path. System flowcharts are very similar to decision flowcharts, with the main difference being the display of decision-making details and the general data flow. System flowcharts are often used in inventory processes and supply chain management applications.

Process flowchart

Process flowcharts, also known as process flow diagrams (PFD), illustrate the sequential steps of a process or workflow. Process flowcharts are used in various industries and situations, but they are especially common in manufacturing and production applications.

Flowchart symbols

Although you can create a simple flowchart with your choice of shapes and lines, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) have set specific standards for flowchart symbols. We recommend following these standards to ensure everyone will be able to understand what your flowchart is trying to convey. Common flowchart symbols include:

  • Rounded rectangle or oval: Also known as the "terminator symbol," represents the start and endpoints
  • Rectangle: Also known as the "action symbol," represents a step in the process
  • Arrow: Also known as the "flowline symbol," shows the direction of flow from one step/idea to another
  • Diamond: Also known as the "decision symbol," indicates a decision point. Diamonds have a question inside with diverging arrows marked with an answer to the question (e.g., "yes" or "no"). The user follows the arrow's path marked with their response to the question.
Flowchart symbol Name Description
oval Rounded rectangle or oval Also known as the "terminator symbol," it represents the start and endpoints
rectangle Rectangle Also known as the "action symbol," it represents a step in the process
arrow Arrow Also known as the "flowline symbol," it shows the direction of flow from one step/idea to another
diamond Diamond Also known as the "decision symbol," it indicates a decision point. Diamonds have a question inside with diverging arrows marked with an answer to the question (e.g., "yes" or "no"). The user follows the arrow's path marked with their response to the question.

When to use a flowchart

Flowcharts provide a way to visualize a process or workflow quickly. Some additional uses for flowcharts include:

  • Summarize a process without the need for written explanations or excessive technical jargon
  • Identify problems or inefficiencies with a workflow
  • Give easy-to-follow instructions
  • Compare different people's processes
  • Plan the steps needed to complete a project
  • Brainstorm ideas in an organized, systematic format
  • Explain concepts to someone unfamiliar with the subject
  • Present information to other people in a visual way

In business, professionals use flowcharts for various tasks and projects, including:

  • Process documentation
  • Workflow management
  • Supply chain management
Vertical Flowchart

Benefits of using flowcharts

Flowcharts are sequential by nature making them beneficial for visualizing any multi-step process. The top advantages of using flowcharts include:

Simplifying complex workflows

Use a flowchart to translate complex workflows into a simple, easy-to-understand visual format. A flowchart's layout and universal symbols make it ideal for stripping a process down to its most basic steps.

Enabling standardization

Flowcharts provide an excellent format for process and workflow documentation. By recording your operational processes in a flowchart, you'll be better equipped to implement and enforce standard processes across your organization.

Improving collaboration

Flowcharts facilitate collaboration and communication across teams. You can use flowcharts to compare different people's processes and ensure your team is on the same page about how to handle a particular task or project.

How to make a flowchart

Making a flowchart is easy. If you're ready to make your first flowchart, follow these steps:

  • Define your objective. First, pick a process to visualize in your flowchart.
  • Identify the steps. Brainstorm and write out the steps or ideas of the process you're focusing on in your flowchart. This step will require communication and agreement between all involved if this is a collaborative project.
  • Arrange the steps in chronological order. Your flowchart needs to be in chronological order, so make sure you understand the order before you start adding steps to the chart.
  • Start building your flowchart. Put the first step in a rounded rectangle or oval box (the start/end symbol).
  • Add boxes and connections. Use rectangle boxes and arrows to add more steps and connect all subsequent steps. Arrows should always point in the direction of flow.
  • Add decision points. If your system has a decision point, write the question in a diamond box, with labeled arrows pointing in different directions to separate paths.
  • End your flowchart. For an easy-to-follow flowchart, end each pathway with a word or description in a rounded rectangle or oval.
  • Check your work. Once you're finished, follow each path to ensure the steps are clear and the chart flows properly. Double-check to make sure you used the right symbols for each step.
  • Use your flowchart. You can use your flowchart to guide others through a process, analyze potential problems in the workflow, or gain a better understanding of the workflow.
Basic Flowchart

Why use MindManager to make flowcharts

You can make a flowchart by hand or in any graphic design program or use a program specifically designed for flowchart making. MindManager, an industry-leading flowchart maker software, allows you to create complex, detailed flowcharts with ease.

MindManager's key benefits include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your flowcharts
  • Premade flowchart templates
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Various tools and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web

MindManager helps you synthesize ideas and information by providing a simple, intuitive framework for organizing your thoughts. With MindManager, you and your team can clarify complexity and collaborate in new and unexpected ways.

Flowchart templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with many flowchart templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project
Horizontal Flowchart

Flowchart FAQs

What are the different types of flowcharts?

The four main flowchart types include decision flowcharts, logic flowcharts, system flowcharts, and process flowcharts. Other flowcharts include swim lane diagrams, which show the steps of a process and who is responsible for each step, and PERT charts, which show how tasks are dependent on other tasks within a workflow.

What is the difference between a top-down and a horizontal flowchart?

A top-down flowchart gives you a visual depiction of the steps in a workflow or process by breaking down the requirements in sequential order, including substeps for each. Horizontal flowcharts are formatted from left to right and convey steps sequentially. Flowcharts can flow in any direction, so long as all steps or concepts are connected with arrows.

What symbols are used to make a flowchart?

The four main symbols in a flowchart are rounded rectangles (or ovals), rectangles, arrows, and diamonds. Each symbol has a specific meaning within the flow of steps in the flowchart.

Find your flow with MindManager

Flowcharts provide a simple, visual reference for complex processes and workflows. Professionals across various industries use flowcharts to document processes, manage and improve workflows, and facilitate collaboration.

Visualize more with MindManager

Creating flowcharts in MindManager is easy and intuitive. Simply choose a pre-made template and follow our steps for making a flowchart. To get started making your own flowcharts, try MindManager free for 30 days.

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