I’ve always found flowcharts to be an excellent tool for businesses. Presenting information in a visual format that can be quickly referred to, increases efficiency, enables faster problem solving and clarifies processes.
Unfortunately, I often come across businesses that are using out of date, overcomplicated or irrelevant flowcharts – and that’s if they are using them at all. Quite often, flowcharts are hidden away in rarely used training manuals and haven’t been updated for years.
If you aren’t using flowcharts in your business or you haven’t updated your processes for a while, then I highly recommend creating new flowcharts. Here are my tips for how to make sure they are effective.
Get the team involved
Involve the people who are actually using the processes on a day to day basis. They’ll be much better at identifying unnecessary steps and letting you know at which stage of a process they need more guidance. Plus, if you involve employees in the process, they’ll be far more likely to retain the information and use the flowcharts correctly.
Decide on the purpose of each flowchart. What process is it streamlining? What is the starting point and the end point?
Use the creation of flowcharts as a training or team-building activity. Bring in a big whiteboard and use different coloured post-it notes to organise ideas. Role play the processes as you talk them through to ensure no steps are missed or carried out in the wrong order. Note where escalation is required, or documentation needs to be completed.
Once you have finalised the process, it can be put into a formal document and tested out.
Keep wording simple
The purpose of a flowchart is to present information in an easy to follow format. Flowcharts that are too text heavy or have too much ambiguity are not effective. Each step should only include one instruction, request or question.
Add documents and controls
Show on the flowchart where documents need to be completed or controls are in place. If you are using digital flowcharts, then include clickable links that take the user to the relevant system or file. The easier you make it for employees to complete each step, the more efficient your processes will become.
As well as using different shapes – a diamond when a decision is required, a square when an action is required – you can also use graphics or icons as references. For example, you might use a document symbol to show that something must be recorded, or an envelope to highlight when an email needs to be sent.
In some cases, flowcharts might only be referred to when an employee is new to a role. Once they have repeated the process several times, they might only need to refer to the chart when there is an unusual occurrence. If flowcharts are not being used regularly, they can easily become outdated without anybody noticing.
As with any process or system, improvement needs to be continuous. That means checking that your flowcharts are relevant and that each step is still required, as well as working out where the inefficiencies are. Which steps can be removed without impacting customer satisfaction or compromising compliance? Flowcharts only remain effective if they reflect the process accurately.
Find out more Every business is made up of processes and systems, whether these are formally documented or not. I help SMEs review and refine their processes, streamline their systems and evolve their businesses. If you’d like to find out more about how I can help your business, get in touch.