This tool is used to understand and review processes, and to consider ways to improve or simplify these.
The goal of this tool is to simplify and improve processes of the client but also to determine areas that need monitoring and to formulate questions for further or later research.
- A computer and a program to create a chart, or large paper, stickies, and markers to create a chart on the wall. Narrow painter's tape can help make lines and arrows if necessary.
- large wall space or a computer, projector
Setting: A computer in order to create the chart is recommended, however the chart can also be hand drawn, or put together with stickies, post its.
Types of participants: The participants of this method should be acquainted with the processes that are to be analyzed.
Time needed: The time that is needed for this process depends on the complexity of the process, from a couple of hours to a day or a series of sessions.
Ideal conditions: Either a projector so the group can see the flowchart as it is created, or a blank flat wall to work on with large paper and stickies
Pre-Work Required: The facilitator should get acquainted with the processes of the client's organization.
The first step is to agree with the client on the purpose of the flowchart, and then deciding which format is the most appropriate. (See below for the different kinds)
With the group, a beginning and an end of the process has to be agreed upon. The more complex a process is, the shorter the sequence should be. Questions such as What signals the beginning of this process? What are the inputs? or What signals the end of the process? What is/are the final output(s)? can help to define the right sequence.
Next, the different elements of the process/flowchart should be identified. This can be done by asking the following questions: Who provides the input for this step? Who uses it? What is done with the input? What decisions are made while the input is being used? What is the output to this step? Who uses it to do what?
Now, together with the client, the facilitator needs to review the first draft of the flow chart so as to check whether all steps are in a logical order. Unclear areas can be marked with a cloud in order to be clarified later.
In a second session after one or two days. review the flowchart with the group of participants to see whether everyone is satisfied with the result, meaning that the processes are actually depicting the real status quo. The facilitator can also ask individuals whether they think this graphic represents what they do.
The Basic Formats of Flowcharts:
1. High-Level Flowchart
This kind of flowchart is also called first-level or top-down flowchart as it only depicts the major steps in a process. It is in the view of a "birds-eye" and offers a basic understanding of a process and it identifies the changes taking place within the process. This format is especially useful when wanting to identify appropriate team members as well as for developing indicators for monitoring the process (because of the focus on intermediate outputs).
2. Detailed Flowchart
The purpose of this flowchart is to provide a more detailed picture of a process. This is done by mapping all of the steps and activities that occur at some point of the progress. It indicates the steps or activities of the process and includes decision points, waiting periods, frequent tasks (rework) and feedback loops. This type of flowchart is very useful when examining areas of the process in detail (hence the name). It is very suitable when wanting to look at problems or areas of inefficiency.
3. Deployment or Matrix Flowchart
This last type maps out the process in terms of who is doing the different steps. It can be considered to be a kind of matrix that shows the flow of steps of the participant, focusing on the latter. The matrix flowchart is highly recommendable when wanting to identify who is providing inputs/services to whom. It also focuses on areas where different people may be doing the same task redundantly.
Usual or Expected Outcomes:
The outcome will be a flowchart that draws clear lines between the process and could therefore display easier or more effective solutions for certain processes.
Once the flowchart is done, the analyzing and the search for improvements can begin. This can be done by an independent person who is not involved in the process, such as the facilitator, but also by the team or by the client. The best solution of course would be team work in which different perspectives come up for discussion.
Potential pitfalls: A potential pitfall would be a flowchart that represents the ideal processes instead of displaying the actual situation.
How success is evaluated: the process is successful when the client has been introduced to new methods that can improve or speed up his/her processes.
Source: Frank Gilbreth
History of Development: The first structured method for documenting process flow, the "flow process chart", was introduced by Frank Gilbreth to members of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers in 1921 as the presentation "Process Charts: First Steps in Finding the One Best Way"