In my previous post, we covered the basics of flowcharts and their importance in Business Architecture. In this post, I am going to highlight the most commonly used flowcharts types and when you can use them.
A process flowchart (also known as Process Flow Diagram) is a flowchart that illustrates and analyzes the overall flow of activities in producing a product or a service. It is used for mapping the important relationships shared between the major components from the beginning of the process till its end. A process flowchart helps to document processes with a purpose to promote better understanding, reinforce quality control measures, and train new employees. It is probably one of the most versatile flowcharts and is used in almost all types of industries.
Swimlane Flowchart (also sometimes called a Cross-functional or Swim Lane Diagram) takes the basic flowchart diagram to the next level. It not only depicts the steps in a process from start to finish but also divides these steps into categories or “lanes” to help identify which departments, employees or phases are responsible for each action. These lanes may be displayed in the horizontal rows or vertical columns. They add an extra layer level of clarity for who does what in the whole process. Although there is no limit on the number of lanes that can be used in a flowchart it is highly recommended to have fewer than ten for better clarity. Swimlane flowcharts are widely used by multi-department organizations to illustrate cooperative business processes. Recently, I worked on a process automation initiative at Anant and used swimlane chart to understand how the whole process takes place and which departments are involved at what level.
A Workflow Chart (also known as a Workflow Diagram) is a slightly more generic flowchart which provides a graphic overview of a business process. It uses standardized symbols and shapes, showing step-by-step, how work is completed from start to finish. It visualizes how tasks will flow between resources, the type of resource and what conditions will allow the sequence to move forward. Designing a workflow generally starts with first conducting a thorough workflow analysis which often exposes potential weakness and provides the opportunity to define, standardize and identify critical areas of the process. Workflow charts are commonly used for documentation and implementation purposes and are often the foundation of flowcharts, data flow diagram, projects and more.
A Data Flowchart (also known as a Data Flow Diagram) is a graphical representation of the “flow” of the data inside an information system. It describes the functions, or processes, which capture, manipulate, store, and distribute data between a system and its environment or between components of a system. Data flowchart became popular in the 1970s around the rapid expansion of software companies.
Dataflow charts can be divided into two parts – logical and physical. A logical data flowchart describes the processes that are undertaken, the data required and produced by each process, and the stores needed to hold data to perform a certain function in a business. The physical data flowchart describes how the system is actually implemented, either at the present moment or how the designer intends to be in the future.
Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN)
BPMN is a flowchart that provides a globally-recognized and easy-to-read way to define, analyze and graphically map public and private business processes. It provides a standard notation which is readily understandable by business analysts who create and refine the processes, the technical developers responsible for implementing them, and the business managers who monitor and manage them. The primary goal of BPMN is to help bridge the communication gaps that often exist between the various departments within an organization.
A flowchart in BPMN is assembled from a small set of core elements, making it easy for a technical and non-technical observer to understand the process involved. The core elements are categorized into three major groups called flow objects, connecting objects and swim lanes.