Common Flowcharting Methods

Many flowcharting methodologies are available, for example:

  • Process Flowcharts
  • Functional Flowcharts (a.k.a Swim Lanes)
  • Top-Down Flowcharts
  • Brown-Paper Flows
  • SIPOC Diagrams
  • Value Stream Maps

Process Flowcharts

Process Flowcharts are perhaps the most commonly used flowcharting method. They map workflows by showing the order that activities and decisions occur. Directional arrows indicate the flow paths of the workflow thereby displaying the sequence of steps or activities of the workflow.

Pros of Process Flowcharts: It is the easiest format to map the full details of the workflow and most useful when analyzing a specific function or activity that is part of the workflow.

Cons of Process Flowcharts: They are arguably the most difficult format to read and comprehend as the flowchart string can ramble on and on.

Functional Flowcharts

Functional Flowcharts use a matrix format to identify the function (or person) involved in each step of the flow.

Functional Flowcharts are also known as Deployment Flowcharts or as Swim Lanes as workflows are organized by function into separate (swim) lanes.

Pros of Functional Flowcharts: Identifies dependencies between functional units.

Cons of Functional Flowcharts: Adding adequate detail to fully explore the workflow can be tedious due to the amount of paper or screen space that functional flows require.

Top-Down Flowcharts

Top-Down Flowcharts organize the workflow by major step. The detailed activities (or sub-steps) are flowcharted under the major step.

If the process flow contains many sub-steps, the flowchart can easily be divided into manageable pieces. Each major step can be flowcharted independently of the other major steps. The top-level major steps provide perspective of how the major step and its associated sub-steps fit into the overall workflow.

Pros of Top-Down Flowcharts: Easy to follow as the major steps across the top represent distinct steps in the overall flow.

Cons of Top-Down Flowcharts: Not easy to indicate activities done in series and the level of detail required to highlight rework loops is not always included.

Brown-Paper Flows

A Brown-Paper Flow is constructed by mounting all artifacts (forms, checklist, computer screens, …) associated with a process on a length of brown Kraft paper.

This technique is especially useful for transactional processes as it will point out what paperwork is redundant and where mistakes in the paperwork might be made.

Pros of Brown-Paper Flows: Brown-Paper Flows can be visual catalysts for improvement. Once the flow is made visible, ideas to simplify the process, put an end to rework loops and reduce hand-offs may “leap” off of the paper. Solutions for redundant or convoluted flow paths may become evident, process steps that once had good reasons to exist but have long since outlived their usefulness may be revealed and tasks that are done in series that would be more effective if done in parallel may become obvious.

Cons of Brown-Paper Flows: Are most effective using actual artifacts and physically placing them onto the brown paper and therefore are best done in person.

SIPOC Diagrams

With a SIPOC Diagram, the bounds and elements of a process are defined in terms of five components. Those components are: the Suppliers, Inputs to the process, the Process itself, the Output of the process, and the Customers of that process, hence the acronym SIPOC.

Pros of a SIPOC Diagram: Helps focus the process analysis on customers and their requirements and provides a useful starting point for Value Stream Maps.

Cons of a SIPOC Diagram: Does not map workflows at a detailed level.

Value Stream Maps

A value stream is another term for a process that has inputs, performs work on those inputs, and generates an output that has added-value. The basic premise of a value stream is that value is added as goods or services stream through the process. Unfortunately, for most value streams, some actions, tasks and activities do not add-value (at least from the customer’s perspective.)

A Current State Map establishes a baseline “warts” and all. Current State Maps help everyone understand how the value stream currently flows.

A Future State Map envisions the “to-be” condition where the plan is to ensure that all workflow elements add-value.

Pros of Value Stream Maps: Provides a comprehensive look at the process in terms of inputs and outputs.

Cons of Value Stream Maps: Can be time consuming to do.