How to make detailed Business Process Flowcharts easier to read

Isn’t the advantage of creating process flowcharts to help the reader see how it works instead of having to read the MS Word document?

But what happens if the process is so complex that the diagram becomes almost unreadable? Instead of helping business analysts understand the process, it adds another layer of complexity. In addition, it makes it almost impossible to discuss the process with your clients. They may even go back to the MS Word documents instead.

Business Process Template

Business Process Flowchart – 4 Swim lanes

How do we avoid this?

Understanding Flowcharts

First we need to look at why we create diagrams for business processes. Why not use MS Word documents and discuss how it works that way?

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart is a diagram that illustrates how a process works.

Instead of using words to describe the interactions between people, software, or other ‘actors’ in an activity, the flowchart shows this via shapes, symbols, and directional lines.

This means you can – with a glance at the map – see how the process operates, get instant feedback, and refine the action steps.

You also need supporting text to capture more granular information but the process map gives the high-level snapshot you need.

3 Types of Shapes in Flowcharts

When creating flowcharts, you will use the following shapes to capture most actions:

  • Rounded rectangles – show the flow-chart’s start and end points.
  • Parallelograms – show inputs or outputs. For instance, an input could be a loan request; the output might be the actual money sent to the customer.
  • Rectangles – show the main activities that occur in a flowchart.

How do I show direction in a flowchart?

Use arrow-heads to show the direction of each step in your process. To do this, right-click on a line, select the arrow, and then choose the direction.

If you don’t provide direction, it’s hard for the reader to know where each step goes next…. especially if several lines enter and exit a rectangle.

How to illustrate processes on a flowchart?

In the following tutorials, we’ll look at more complex process mapping but for those who are new to process design, the three types of structures used in flowcharts are as follows:

  • Sequences – Show a series of actions, or steps, that are performed in sequence, for instance, the steps required to apply for purchase an airplane ticket online.
  • Decisions – Show decision points. The Diamond symbol indicates a Yes/No question. If the answer to the question is Yes, the flow (i.e. direction) goes in one path; if the answer is No, the flow goes in another. This is also called Either/Or.
  • Repetitions – Shows parts of an activity that repeats or loops. This is helpful when flowcharting software or business operations.

For instance: the process asks the question “Are your PIN details correct?”

If the answer is No, Process A is performed.

Then the question “Are your PIN details correct?” is repeated.

Process A is repeated as long as the PIN details are invalid.

When the response changes, for example, when the PIN details are valid, the repetition stops.

How to connect large process maps in Visio?

This brings us complex process maps.

You have several choices here:

  • Create one master process map with EVERYTHING on it.
  • Create one parent diagram and several child diagram (i.e. Visio files).
  • Create one parent diagram and use Connectors to link them together.

How do Connectors work?

Instead of linking to other files or creating a suite of files, use Connectors to ‘link’ to other diagrams.
Use Connectors when a flowchart is too detailed to fit onto one page.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Identify the sub-processes. Label them.
  2. Create a new MS Visio page for each sub-process.
  3. Create a master diagram.
  4. Illustrate the process at a high level.
  5. Use the Connector symbol – small circle with a letter or number inside it – to connect the master process to the sub-process. These are also called off-page connectors.

Tup: One suggestion is to use RED for connectors as they highlight where you go off-page to learn more.

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Visio – Process flow diagram

Conclusion

Rather that squeezing the entire flowchart into one page, use connectors to join one page to another page, so that the reader can understand the flow of information more clearly. This makes it easier to edit, review, and update flowcharts.

The skill is using connectors is to distill the process into sub-process first and then use the connectors to link the activities together.

That’s how I do it. How do you concentrate a lot of information into a single process map? I’m on Visio. What tool do you use?