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Workflow Diagram - Definition and How to Create One

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A Workflow Diagram is a visual depiction of your standard workflow as it moves between resources. Businesses use a workflow diagram of a project to illustrate the chain of actions.

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Workflow Diagram

You may have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words. While the saying may seem like an artistic expression, it is an evidence-based scientific fact that an image does, indeed, carry more weight than blocks of text. And workflow diagrams tap into this innate yet under-utilized ability of the human brain to process and retain visual content.

But what is a workflow diagram? How can it benefit your organization? And most importantly, how to create a workflow diagram?

Let’s address all these queries one by one.

What is a Workflow Diagram?

What is Workflow Diagram?
A Workflow Diagram offers a bird’s eye view of the business and its processes.

It is a visual depiction of your standard workflow as it moves between resources. Businesses use a workflow diagram of a project to illustrate the chain of actions and capture the stakeholders involved in executing various tasks and subtasks.

The workflow process diagram is commonly used for documentation and project implementation purposes. It acts as a blueprint for your business and governs all the internal and external movements. Further, you can also use it to analyze the ease of flow, locate bottlenecks, and incorporate changes to streamline it.

Due to the use of standard workflow diagram symbols, as used in flowcharts, workflow diagrams are also universally comprehendible throughout the organization.

Types of Workflow Diagrams

There are several ways to display a workflow process diagram, the commonest of these include:
  • UML Activity: These make use of a Unified Modeling Language (UML) to visualize the order of steps in a business process, along with the flow control.
  • Swimlane: In the Swimlane workflow diagram, the organizational structure is divided into department/team-based units and the connectors denote their interactions.
  • BPMN: BPMN, or Business Process Modeling Notation, uses workflow diagram symbols and patterns similar to UML. It uses standardized business language to bridge technical and business stakeholders so that they can all focus on the process.BPMN
  • SIPOC: Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Consumer (SIPOC) is a type of workflow diagram that is pretty much self-explanatory. It maps out who creates, receives, and transmits data to necessitate all the high-level processes.SIPOC
  • ANSI Flowchart: The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) was the first to attempt the formalization and standardization of workflow diagram symbols. It encourages the use of common language and pictorial shapes to represent the various steps involved in a task.

How to Create a Workflow Diagram?

How to Create Workflow diagram
By now, it has been established that workflow diagrams can help employees get on the same page and track or facilitate a process. Additionally, it also lends invaluable insights into process improvement efforts, knowledge transfer methods, movement tracking, and business uniformity.

It is evident that a workflow process diagram would only add value to your organization.

In this section, we will address the burning question - how to create a workflow diagram?
1) Understand the Workflow Diagram Symbols and Shapes
Before you even start exploring any workflow diagram tool, you need to have a basic understanding of the workflow diagram symbols and shapes that represent the elements of your process.

Whether you are designing a workflow diagram of a project or of that of your entire organizational structure, here are some common workflow diagram symbols and shapes:
Shape/SymbolPurposeOvalRepresents the start and endpoints of the taskRectangleSignifies an action or an instructionDiamondUsed for decision-making, with one path corresponding to TRUE and another separate path for FALSECircleDenotes a connection between flow elements or connects leap tags from one section to anotherArrowUsed to show the flow of the process from one step to anotherClockTime delay
Workflow Symbols & Shapes
2) Identify the Process that Requires Diagramming
If you are running a large enterprise, it may not be possible for you to outline the complete end-to-end process, especially all at once. So, in this case, you will first have to identify the business-critical tasks/processes/projects first and draw them. Thereafter, you can move out to a macroscopic level and integrate other sections.

Alternatively, you can follow a top-down approach by first identifying the key areas that call for attention and then recognizing the workflow you need to diagram. Moreover, you can choose to represent the existing workflow process diagram or the projected flow after a process improvement. For instance, if you notice that your customer service is slacking, you can create a workflow diagram to identify the issues and fix accountability.
3) Disintegrate Tasks Into Bite-Sized Bits
Now that you understand the key functional areas that need workflow diagramming, it is time to map it out. Each workflow process diagram can be broken down into three main segments, namely:
  • Input: The capital, resource, labor, data, or equipment necessary to initiate and complete the transformation.
  • Process: The changes and activities involved in the process, which make use of the input to deliver the output.
  • Output: The end-result of the process.
Accordingly, break down the project or the task, and classify the individual elements into input, process, and output.
4) Streamline and Analyze
List the flow of the high-level steps and the activities that occur repeatedly - these could highlight redundancy or scope for automation. Now, create a rough sketch of the workflow and start adding details to it.

At this stage, you may need inputs from all the people that participate in the activities. Hence, get them involved as you ask the following questions:
  • What is the purpose or the overall goal of the workflow diagram?
  • What are the triggers that indicate the starting and ending point of the process?
  • What are the activities involved at every step of the process, and who are the key stakeholders involved in them?
  • Are there any deviations from the standard process? If so, what are they and how do they flow?
  • At decision points, what are the inputs that an employee would need to make the decision?
  • Does the process follow a timeline? If yes, what is it in the best-case scenario?
Streamline & Analyze Workflow
5) Select a Workflow Diagram Tool
Once you have done all the homework, it is fairly easy to commit your workflow diagram to a workflow diagram tool.

It is worth mentioning here that your workflow diagram tool plays a crucial role in determining the success of your diagramming efforts. While you may find several options for workflow diagram tools online, settle for something easy to use with an intuitive UI and drag and drop functionality. Further, you can use cloud-based technologies to get your workflow diagram online and have everyone share their inputs in real-time and work collaboratively.

Now that your canvas is ready, all you need to do is draw! Checkout Breakout's Workflow Management Tool

Use Cases and Examples of Workflow Diagram

Workflow diagrams are process and industry agnostic. Hence, you can use it in any way that you deem fit. Here are a few workflow diagram samples to inspire you:
  1. Workflow Diagram for the eCommerce Sector
    E-commerce Workflow Example
    A typical workflow for an eCommerce order would be as follows:
    1. The customer places an order.
    2. The payment gateway processes the transaction and confirms whether or not the amount has been received.
    3. If the payment fails, the customer is informed of it, and the process terminates.
    4. If the payment passes through, the seller passes the product onto the fulfillment center, which then ships it to the customer.
    5. Once the item reaches the customer, the process terminates.
  2. Workflow Diagram for Procurement
    Procurement Process Example
    Here is what a workflow diagram for digital procurement looks like:
    1. The employee submits a request to purchase software/hardware/equipment.
    2. Depending on the requirements and the specifications, a tender is released.
    3. Vendors submit their quotes as the process is on pause for n number of days.
    4. If the company does not receive enough quotes, a fresh tender is released. (Process terminates if this process has happened n times in a loop)
    5. If the company has enough quotes, the L1 vendor is selected and contracted.
    6. The purchase order is put up for approval.
    7. If the proposal is denied, the process terminates.
    8. If the proposal is approved, it is forwarded to the vendor.
    9. After the receipt of the goods/service, the order is reviewed for n days.
    10. If the order meets the specifications, the payment is made, and the process terminates.
    11. If the order fails to meet the specifications, the task is forwarded to the reconciliation and quality assessment department.
  3. Workflow Diagram for Opening a Bank Account
    Account Opening Workflow
    Here is what a workflow diagram for procurement looks like:
    1. The customer fills in the paperwork.
    2. If the documents are missing, the missing documents are requested from the customer.
    3. If the documents do not match, the request is rejected, and the process terminates.
    4. If the documents are approved, they are forwarded to the Bank Manager for sanctioning the request.
    5. The bank employee creates the account, and the process terminates.

Final Thoughts

Workflow diagrams are the smartest ways to manage, document, and analyze your business processes. It lends transparency to all the activities and makes them more productive and efficient. Most importantly, they are easy to use, loaded with value, and are simple to understand. To make your workflow diagrams richer, you can incorporate flow improvement theories, such as TQM, TOC Six Sigma, etc. to make them all the more useful!

So get started on your workflow diagram now!
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