How to Read a Process Flow Chart

by Grant D. McKenzie; Updated September 26, 2017
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Most processes can be displayed visually using a process flow chart. The concept of the flow chart was once tied to the realm of software development, where it was necessary to analyze the algorithms that were being programmed. Since a process can be seen as a kind of algorithm, the practice spread into the business world. Charts are constructed to show where actions must be taken, where decisions must be made and what the results of those decisions might mean. Once you have learned how to read the symbols, reading and implementing a process from a flowchart becomes easy.

Step 1

Locate the beginning of the process. This will normally be a capsule-shaped object with the word "Start" inside, although sometimes, this symbol is omitted, and the first step in the process is depicted as the start point. Follow the arrow to the next box.

Step 2

Identify the type of box that the arrow leads to. Traditionally, rectangles and rounded rectangles represent process steps and alternate steps, respectively, and diamonds represent decision points. For most process flow charts, these are the only symbols you will see.

Step 3

Perform the action required in the block. If you are just reading the chart, perform the task mentally and move to the next block. If the block is a decision point, choose one of the options available and follow the arrow for that option. Come back later and follow the other option.

Step 4

Repeat the process of identifying and performing until you have covered the entire process.