Flowcharts are one of the most versatile diagram types. Companies use flow charts to document complex business processes. Software engineers use them to envision data flow. Hipsters post them online to amuse each other with their snarky witticisms.
Regardless of your needs, Gliffy’s free online flowchart maker will facilitate the process of creating flowcharts online.
Following are the six most commonly seen types of flow charts, each explained and illustrated with a template — click any image to launch Gliffy and get started creating a flowchart of your own.
Process Maps and Process Charts
One of the more common uses of the flowchart is to map out a process. These process charts can be troubleshooting guides to problems, templates for efficient action, or step-by-step walkthroughs for any series of events or decisions.
One process flowchart example would be a phone tree. See how each option in the process leads to its own chain of possible actions and decisions?
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Swimlane diagrams show how interdependent procedures unfold in parallel, presenting a collection of distinct but linked process flowchart examples. Swimlane diagrams mimic a lap pool, dividing each action/decision thread into its own distinct lane — one for each operator or group of operators.
In a swimlane diagram, each lane contains flowchart elements arranged in sequence. Arrows connect these elements, and arrows cross lanes as responsibility transfers back and forth between operators. In this way, multiple processes come together to form a whole and a single process gets split into assigned tasks that teams can easily track.
As you guessed, workflow diagrams are a flavor of flowchart that businesses use to direct workflow. They visually lay out the steps of a task so that complex processes become easy to follow, one step at a time.
Workflow diagrams can include traditional flowchart symbols and/or icons. They can also include annotations of specifics, such as how long an action should take or what resources are required.
Impact maps are a specialized sort of flowchart that illustrate the connections between specific deliverables and business goals. They accomplish this task by utilizing a four-column format, as seen in the example template below.
Each impact map starts with a goal. Each goal leads to one or more ‘actors’ — actors being people or groups of people with the ability to influence the outcome of the goal. For example, if your goal were to sell movie tickets, possible actors would include theater staff, studio marketing departments, cinemagoers, and actual Hollywood actors.
A third column lists ‘impacts’. Impacts describe how actors’ behavior might change in order to help or hinder the achievement of the goal. So for the goal ‘sell movie tickets’ and given the actor ‘cinemagoers’, possible impacts could be ‘see films more frequently’ and ‘subscribe to loyalty program’.
Finally, an impact map lists the deliverables that you propose in order to create the impacts that will guide the actors to support your goal. For the impact ‘subscribe to loyalty program’ for example, a deliverable might be ‘free popcorn special offer’.
When you create an impact map, you’re clearly showing how your deliverables connect to an overarching goal via a chain of dependencies.
Context Diagrams and Data Flow Diagrams
Context diagrams and other data flow diagrams show — in flow chart form — how data moves through an information system. They are by nature system design and analysis tools, but they can be used to illustrate a wide range of processes.
Unlike other flowcharts, context diagrams and data flow diagrams don’t indicate the sequence of the depicted events. Instead, they only represent the exchange of data and the directionality of that exchange.
But there are no flowchart police.
If you want to use the basic language of the flow chart to communicate without adhering to any of the above-listed standards — as we have in the example below — that’s perfectly fine.
One of the beauties of the flow chart form is its flexibility. At Gliffy, we’re here to help, not to inhibit.
Click any image above to launch it as a template in Gliffy and you’ll be well on your way to creating your own flowchart.