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Quality Instrument: Flowchart

by Jordan Warner
Quality Instrument: Flowchart

The flow chart is an instrument for clearly showing the course of a process. A flow chart is a picture of the individual successive steps in a process. Standardized symbols are used. The English term is a process flowchart, or process flow diagram. 

A flowchart is a generic tool that can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, to describe a production process in a factory, or to describe the route that materials take. It can also be used in decision making. You can then map out which people are involved or which process measures must be taken.

The process you make the diagram of can describe anything: a production process, an administrative process, a service process, or a project plan.

When do you use a flowchart?

A flow chart is handy to use, for example:

  • to understand how a process works;
  • to understand an improvement process;
  • communicate with others about how a process is going;
  • when better communication is needed between people involved in the same process;
  • to document a process;
  • if you are going to plan a project;

How does it work?

By using graphic symbols to represent the flow of activities in a process, a clear picture is obtained from the course of a process. Standardized symbols are used for this. You can create the flowchart with the help of flowchart creator.

Example

The following flow chart is designed to arrange a lunch appointment at a restaurant:

Approach

  • Determine which process needs to be mapped.
  • Determine the limits of the process; everything that enters the process is input, everything that exits the process is output.
  • Start drawing the flowchart with the terminal symbol with the text ‘start’ in it.
  • Draw the input/output symbol at the bottom right indicating what is entering the process and acting as a ‘trigger’ to start the process.
  • Now draw the first activity in the process symbol, connect it via a line to the start symbol and draw the line from the input/output symbol to this line.
  • Now follow all activities and decisions within the process as if you were making a movie. The activities are described with the process symbol, so the description always contains a verb; the decisions are described with the decision symbol and therefore (almost) always contain a question.
  • Documents used in a process step are indicated by the document symbol with an arrow in the direction of the process symbol; documents generated by the activity are displayed with a document symbol with an arrow pointing away from the process symbol.
  • If an activity is a check, the parameter symbol can be used to indicate which characteristics should be checked.
  • End all flows leaving the process with a terminal symbol that says ‘stop’. That can be several because a process can have several options to stop (where other processes continue).

Comments

  • Always draw the process so that the description of the main flow starts at the top left and ends at the bottom left. Control loops or documents are then drawn to the right with respect to that main flow. This creates a calm picture and prevents the flowchart from becoming even more chaotic than the process itself. A distinction can be made between information flows (dotted lines) and material flows (solid lines).
  • If more than two outcomes are possible in a decision, this can be solved by a series of questions, for example, ranked by probability of occurrence (Pareto).

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