A workflow diagram visually represents the movement and transfer of resources, documents, data and tasks through the entire work process for a given product or service. A successfully built flowchart will represent the correct workflow quickly and clearly.

Improving Efficiency and Avoiding Bottlenecks

Many work processes can be complicated and complex, so it is important to visually represent how the tasks are completed to improve employee understanding and efficiency. Workflow diagrams clearly state who is responsible for each stage, what documents and resources they need, and the amount of time needed at each stage. Knowing employee roles and resource requirements for production allows management to easily define weaknesses and alleviate bottlenecks. Bottlenecks are any aspects of the workflow that hinder and slow down the overall cycle time of the process.

Increasing Accountability and Communication

Visually representing the entire workflow process allows employees to better understand not only their job responsibilities, but also other employees’ roles, which increases accountability. Creating a successful, accurate workflow diagram increases knowledge in the workplace because of the required research and data compilation. Communication also improves when employees have a better understanding of the workflow process.

Using Shapes to Show Activity

Workflow diagrams use specific shapes that correspond to different types of activities. An oval shows where the workflow begins and ends. Rectangles represent a process activity, task, or analysis. Diamonds signify a decision-making process, usually resulting in two possible workflow directions. If the answer to a decision is yes, the workflow continues on the intended route, but if the answer is no, the workflow may have to take another route to solve the problem. A diagram with a lot of diamond shapes may harder to follow visually. Circles represent connectors from one activity to another.

Implementing Workflow Diagrams

Although designing the workflow diagram can be an extensive and time-consuming process, its implementation may be more difficult. Managers cannot simply post a diagram in the workplace and expect employees to deliver to it without any guidance. Most diagrams need to be coupled with a workflow improvement theory such as lean manufacturing, Six Sigma or total quality management. (See Reference 1)

Alternatives to Workflow Diagrams

Some businesses use alternatives to workflow diagrams such as process, business planning and flow control. A process, or process map, is a very similar concept to workflow and workflow diagrams. A work process is more specific than workflow, focusing more on inputs and outputs than the transfer of data, documents and task responsibilities. Business planning focuses more on long-term goals rather than improving the current workflow. Managers interested in flow control specifically look to improve inventory control.