When working with a complex process or concept, creating a flow chart to show all of the steps involved can help to better visualize the entire process. Flow charts are a diagram made up of symbols and arrows to create a visual representation of each step in a process.
A flow chart is like a road map. A road map will help the viewer easily get from one place to the next. Location markers and symbols help the viewer understand what can be done at each location and provide useful information along the way.
Flow charts can get very complicated very fast, but if you use the proper symbols and follow a few key practices you will be able to properly document the most complicated of processes.
Every Process Starts and Ends
with the road map, you know where you're starting (hopefully) and where you want to end up. Your flowchart should be clearly marked with where the process starts and where the process ends.
Typical symbols used for this function are an oval or rounded rectangle and are referred to as terminal points. A starting terminal has one arrow out; an ending terminal has one arrow in.
Now that you've got your starting point, you can start breaking down the process into its logical steps.
The symbol you will use for the majority of the steps is a rectangle. Summarize the step within the rectangle by using a short description. If additional explanation is needed, make annotations or key points in a reference section. Each step in the process has one arrow in and one arrow out.
A Fork In The Road - Decision Time
There will come a time in your process where a decision needs to be made. The best decision points are answered by
a "yes/no" or "true/false" response. Depending on the response the process will take a different direction. Just like meeting a fork in the road, you will ultimately end at the same destination, but through a different path. The symbol used for showing decision points is the diamond. A decision point will have one arrow in and two arrows out. The exit points of the decision represent the response to the question being posed: one arrow for the yes/true response, the other arrow representing the no/false response.
Maintain The Proper Directional Flow
To ensure your flowchart doesn't get too confusing, keep your arrow connectors simple. The majority of your flowchart will be made up of rectangles designating each of the steps in the process. Maintain one arrow in and one arrow out. If multiple steps merge into one, connect the arrows prior to the step.
If your flowchart starts getting a little "leggy" with too many arrows, you may want to use
connector symbols. These symbols can be used to connect to a step somewhere else on the same page or to a new page altogether. Similar to a terminal symbol, connectors will have one arrow in (connecting 'to') or one arrow out (connecting 'from').