Flowcharts are maps or graphical representations of a process. Steps in a process are shown with symbolic shapes, and the flow of the process is indicated with arrows connecting the symbols. Computer programmers popularized flowcharts in the 1960's, using them to map the logic of programs. In quality improvement work, flowcharts are particularly useful for displaying how a process currently functions or could ideally function. Flowcharts can help you see whether the steps of a process are logical, uncover problems or miscommunications, define the boundaries of a process, and develop a common base of knowledge about a process. Flowcharting a process often brings to light redundancies, delays, dead ends, and indirect paths that would otherwise remain unnoticed or ignored. But flowcharts don't work if they aren't accurate, if team members are afraid to describe what actually happens, or if the team is too far removed from the actual workings of the process.
Common flowchart symbols
Guidelines for drawing a flowchart
Flowcharts are usually drawn using some standard symbols; however, some special symbols can also be developed when required. some standard flowchart symbols, which are frequently, required for flowcharting many computer programs are shown below:
Types of flowcharts:
A high-level (also called first-level or top-down) flowchart shows the major steps in a process. It illustrates a "birds-eye view" of a process, such as the example in the figure entitled High-Level Flowchart of Prenatal Care. It can also include the intermediate outputs of each step (the product or service produced), and the sub-steps involved. Such a flowchart offers a basic picture of the process and identifies the changes taking place within the process. It is significantly useful for identifying appropriate team members (those who are involved in the process) and for developing indicators for monitoring the process because of its focus on intermediate outputs.
Most processes can be adequately portrayed in four or five boxes that represent the major steps or activities of the process. In fact, it is a good idea to use only a few boxes, because doing so forces one to consider the most important steps. Other steps are usually sub-steps of the more important ones.
The detailed flowchart provides a detailed picture of a process by mapping all of the steps and activities that occur in the process. This type of flowchart indicates the steps or activities of a process and includes such things as decision points, waiting periods, tasks that frequently must be redone (rework), and feedback loops. This type of flowchart is useful for examining areas of the process in detail and for looking for problems or areas of inefficiency. For example, the Detailed Flowchart of Patient Registration reveals the delays that result when the record clerk and clinical officer are not available to assist clients.
Deployment or Matrix FlowchartA deployment flowchart maps out the process in terms of who is doing the steps. It is in the form of a matrix, showing the various participants and the flow of steps among these participants. It is chiefly useful in identifying who is providing inputs or services to whom, as well as areas where different people may be needlessly doing the same task.