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Flowcharts are one of the most versatile diagram types, whether you’re documenting a complex business process, helping software engineers envision data flow, or even taking a “Which movie should you watch?” quiz.
In the following article, we have six common types of flowcharts explained and illustrated with an example. Just click on that example to launch Gliffy and get started making your own flowchart. (Bonus: these flowchart examples are just the beginning — Gliffy has plenty of flowchart templates to make your diagramming adventure a walk in the park.)
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One of the most common uses of a flow diagram is to map out a complex process. Process charts, also called process maps, could help your users troubleshoot a common problem, act as a step-by-step walkthrough for a project, or make sure teams are sticking to an efficient process.
This process chart example is a phone tree. See how each option in the process leads to its own chain of actions and decisions? Imagine what this process would look like as a text-only word doc. Messy and, more importantly, hard to use.
As a reminder, just click on this example to launch Gliffy and use it as your own process map template.
Swimlane diagrams show how interdependent procedures unfold in parallel, presenting a collection of distinct but linked processes. A swimlane diagram mimics a lap pool by dividing each type of action or operator into each lane.
In a swimlane diagram, each lane contains flowchart elements arranged in sequence. Arrows connect these elements, with arrows that cross lanes representing places in the process when responsibility transfers back and forth between categories or departments. This allows the diagram to show how multiple processes across different areas of a business or different action types come together to form a holistic process.
In the swimlane diagram example below, the lanes divide the internal processes that take place “behind the scenes” of a product launch from the actions that are seen by that product’s consumers. You can use this swimlane chart as a template by simply clicking on it.
As its name may imply, a workflow diagram is a type of flowchart that specifically helps businesses direct workflows. These diagrams visually lay out the steps associated with a project so that otherwise complex processes are broken down into clear, easy-to-follow steps.
Most workflow diagrams include traditional flowchart symbols or icons. They may also include annotations of specifics for that project, such as how long that action should take or what resources are required to move forward.
Impact maps are a specialized type of flowchart that illustrate the connections between specific deliverables and business goals. Each impact map starts with a goal, then flows across channels such as “actor,” “impact,” and “deliverable,” as shown in our impact map example below. These columns each contain information describing the tactics that will help achieve your beginning goal.
In the impact map template and example below, we see how a goal like “grow your userbase” is relevant to different actors, what actions those actors can take, and what deliverables can trigger those actions.
Read from left to right, this impact map example explains what tactics will help accomplish the overall goal, like creating a clear button to improve user sharing. Read from right to left, it can align the workers of an organization on how their deliverables serve the overall goal.
To try making your own, just give this impact map example a click and it’ll open as a diagram template in Gliffy.
Context diagrams and other data flow diagrams show how data moves through an information system using the flowchart format. They’re primarily used as system design and analysis tools, but they can be used to illustrate a wide range of processes.
In the context diagram below, we see how information shared during a university student registration process is then shared with departments across the university. That process creates a schedule output for the students, provides faculty members with class lists, and assigns classrooms to each course. Meanwhile, that process receives information about which students are eligible to take courses using inputs from the department’s requirements lists, the financial aid offices, and the admissions offices.
Unlike other flowcharts, context diagrams and data flow diagrams don’t indicate a sequence of events, but simply the exchange of information and the directions of that exchange. With this data flow diagram example, some information flows into the process prior to a single student’s registration. Other information can’t be generated until after that student’s registration.
There are rules for how to make a flowchart, from agreed upon definitions of flowchart symbols to different types of styles and formats. But, as they say, rules are made to be broken. One of the best things about flow diagrams is their flexibility.
If the information you want to share lends itself to an unconventional flowchart design, that’s okay! Maybe you want to experiment with a creative flowchart or diagram the complex “plot” of your next choose-your-own-adventure novel. We’re not here to judge.
The example below is one of the less-structured flowchart examples we’ve created. Open it in Gliffy with a quick little click to use it as a diagram template for your own masterpiece.
All the flowchart examples above can be used as Gliffy templates, but you’re more than welcome to start with a blank canvas, too! There’s no right or wrong way to flowchart — but we do recommend that you give Gliffy a try.
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