Process Flow Diagram


To provide a visual display of the major steps or activities in a process.


  1. Identify what begins the process and what ends it.

    Beginning StepsEnding Steps
    Mail comes inMail delivered
    Form comes in Data entered
    Information requestedCatalog mailed
    Student admittedFees paid

  2. List all the steps in the process, from the input to the output. (Hint: One way to make the next step easier is to write each process step on individual Post-It notes.)

  3. Arrange the steps in the order in which they are completed.

  4. Draw a diagram, using appropriate symbols for each step.

  5. Use arrows to show the direction of process flow from step to step.

  6. Show points in the process where steps are held up due to actions outside the process; these are wait states. Examples: design must wait for city approval; student needs to return completed form; information must come from another office. Show wait time in minutes, hours, days, etc.

  7. Label all symbols. Title and date the process flow diagram.

  8. Check your work and correct the process flow diagram as necessary.

  9. Get consensus from the team: "Is this how it really is?"

Accepted Continuous Improvement Process:

Input/OutputThe beginning or end of a process
Activity ProcessAn operation performed
Decision PointA point in the process where a yes/no or pass/fail determination must be made
Wait StateA point at which the process is temporarily halted to wait for input, operation, or information from outside the process.
LoopA separate path that takes the process ahead or back to other steps.
File or Data StorageAn output in the process ends in hard copy or electronic storage.
DocumentPrinted paper output from the process
Page BreakUse when the chart is longer than one page
Lines and ArrowsShows the direction of the process through various steps.

Tips for Flow Diagrams:

  1. Identify "what is," not what is ideal. Document the process the way it actually runs, "warts" and all. This will take discipline, but the team needs a true picture of how the process currently exists.

  2. Draw another flow diagram of what steps the process should follow if everything worked right. Compare this with the first diagram to find where they are different since that is where the problems arise.

  3. Don't diagram processes not covered by your issue statement. The team's selected process may only be a part of a larger process.

  4. Use standard Process Flow Diagram symbols. Usually there is only one output arrow from an "activity/process" box; otherwise use a "decision diamond."

  5. Use tact and courtesy during this process. Remember that 80% of all errors are caused by problems in the process, not employees.

  6. Talk to people outside the team to investigate for hidden activities/processes.

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