What Is a Flowchart?

Put simply, a flowchart is a diagram that shows each step or progression through a process. Lines indicate directional flow and there’s a standard set of symbols that help describe the step-by-step procedures. 

A well-made flowchart can be used to break big ideas into small, bite-sized pieces that are expressed visually, so knowing how to make one is sort of like having a universal language. Being able to flowchart makes it possible to communicate all sorts of things with all sorts of people, and that’s pretty cool.

 

4 Most Common Flowchart Types

While the variations and versions of flowcharts are endless, there are four flowchart types that are particularly versatile. These four common diagrams are great for describing business, manufacturing, or administrative processes, seeing how an organization functions, or how different departments work together.

 

1. The Process Flowchart 

Illustrate How a Process Works or Plan a Project

A process flowchart is probably the most versatile of the four commonly used flowchart types because it can be applied to virtually anything. Use a process flow diagram to:

  • Map out roles and responsibilities within an organization to gain clarity.
  • Draw up a proposal for a new process or project to understand its scope and steps.
  • Show the way you wake up in the morning, as shown below.

Process flowchart example showing a morning routine

 

2. The Workflow Chart 

Understand How Data and Documents Flow Within Your Organization

A workflow chart shows the way a business or process functions. The below example illustrates the steps required for a potential customer to renew a policy through a company website. This type of workflow diagram can be used to:

  • train new employees
  • discover potential problem areas
  • clarify business operations by showing a high-level overview

Workflow chart example

 

3. The Swimlane Flowchart

Describe How Separate Departments, Processes or Employees Interact

The swimlane flowchart comes in handy when you need to show multiple flows of information side by side. Swimlane diagrams might sound really similar to a workflow diagram, but the key here is that it allows you to create different categories where activity takes place. 

A swimlane flowchart or diagram is great for documenting a whole process that interacts with different segments of an organization or requires collaboration among different teams. The below example illustrates the way an internal-facing department runs parallel with an external-facing one and at what times in the process they interact with each other. 

swimlane diagram example

 

4. The Data Flowchart

See Where Data Flows In and Out of an Information System

A data flowchart shows the way data is processed. It comes in handy when you want to design or analyze a system. Although most often used for software development and design, it can be used to analyze any type of information flow, like how information moves through a business. The below example shows a typical sales funnel. In this case the “data” is consumer behavior.

data flow chart example

 

Try Gliffy for Even More Types of Flowcharts

Because flowcharts work for expressing so many different types of information, you can bet these four common flow diagrams are just the tip of the iceberg. The good news: with Gliffy, you get access to over 200 flowchart templates, so building your diagram is a lot easier than starting from scratch. 

Start your free trial of Gliffy now to get started on your own flow diagram, or visit our dedicated flowcharts page for even more resources.

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