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Want to dive straight in to diagramming? You can start a free trial of Gliffy Online and learn how to make a flowchart in just a few clicks. Otherwise, jump ahead to one of the following sections or read on to learn more about common types of flowcharts:
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, inputs, and decisions in the process.
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 with any stakeholder or audience, because visuals are typically easier to understand than words. For this reason, flowcharts are a valuable type of business diagram but can also be used for more technical fields like manufacturing or software engineering.
While the variations and versions of flowcharts are endless, there are four flowchart types that are particularly popular and very 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.
A process flowchart or process flow diagram is probably the most versatile of the four commonly used flowchart types because it can be applied to virtually anything. Process flow diagrams or process mapping can help quickly explain how something gets done in your organization. Sometimes, these types of flowcharts use a standard language or notation, like Business Process Modeling and Notation. Use a process flow diagram to:
Learn more in our blog about Process Flow Diagrams >>
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:
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.
More complicated diagrams could include five, six, or even more swimlanes, like for each department within an organization or each role on a cross-functional team. The goal of swimlanes is to clarify and simplify a flowchart, though, so avoid adding too many lanes and keep things simple!
Learn more about swimlane diagrams with our resource videos, What is a Swimlane Diagram? and How to Make a Swimlane Diagram.
A data flowchart or data flow diagram 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.
All of the four most common flowchart types listed above — and other variations of flowcharts — do one thing really well: the visually capture a step-by-step process. In any field, flow diagrams or flowcharts document a process and give their users the ability to analyze or optimize that process. They also make it easier for new employees or users to understand the process as they learn. All this means that having clear documentation is a key way to increase team productivity.
In sales, flowcharts can be used to:
Flow diagrams are extremely valuable in manufacturing, where standardization and uniformity are important. In manufacturing, they're used to:
Visualizing your operations will help your team perform consistently. A flow diagram can:
These charts can describe highly technical information in a clearer way. While coding or working in software, diagrams can:
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. For even more help, check out our blog post on How to Make a Flowchart.
If you're interested in using flowcharts or other types of diagrams to improve your work, check out our on-demand webinar, How to Diagram Your Way to Better Work.
Start your free trial of Gliffy now and learn how to make a flowchart of your own.
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