drawing a flow chart on a whiteboard

The Top 10 Flow Chart Symbols you need to know

What are the Top 10 Flow Chart Symbols that you need to know? Find out which symbols you need to use now and how to use them in your Flow Charts.
Flow Charts are a simple, but highly effective way to document business processes. stakeholdermap.com
Flow charting uses a set of standard notation or symbols to represent what steps actually happen in a process.

In The Basics of Process Mapping Robert Damelio points out that most people who use flow charting tend to rely on a very few symbols, which limits the usefulness of the flow charts that they create.

To help you to create successful flow charts here are the symbols that you need to know!

The Top 10 Flow Chart Symbols that you need to know

Symbol Means Example of how the symbol is used
Terminator symbol in flow charting

Terminator

Terminators show the start or end of a process workflow. "Start" or "End" may be written inside this flow chart symbol.
example use of terminators in a flow chart
process symbol used in a flow chart

Activity

The Activity or task symbol is by far the most common notation in a flowchart. It identifies a task or activity in the process flow. Often the name of the activity is shown inside the symbol.
using the activity symbol in a flow chart
Decision symbol - flow charts

Decision

The Decision symbol shows a branch of decision point in the flow diagram. The decision should be written inside the symbol. Arrows show the options arising from the decision, for example "Yes" or "No".
Example of the Decision Symbol used in a flow chart
Delay symbol - flow chart

Delay

The Delay symbol is used when something is in a waiting state or is placed temporarily in storage. For example an appointment notification might be sent and then filed in a temporary folder until a response is received.
example flow chart showing the use of Delay symbol


Symbol Means Example of how the symbol is used
Data symbol - flow chart

Data

The Data flowchart symbol is used to represent any type of data in a flow chart.
Using the Data symbol in a Flow Chart
Document symbol in Flow Charting

Document

The Document symbol shows when the output of an activity is documented on paper. It is helpful to write the name of the document inside the symbol.
Document Symbol in Flow Charting
Database symbol in flow charts

Database

Database symbols show when the output of a task is stored into a database. It is a good practice to write the name of the database inside the symbol.
The Database symbol used in a simple flow chart
Off-Page Connector - flow chart

Off - page Connector

Off - Page Connectors are used to indicate that the flow chart connects with another process. They are very helpful when you have several complex connected processes, for example a process that runs through several operational departments like purchase to payment.
Off-Page Connector symbol shown in a simple flow
Stored Data Symbol - flow chart

Stored Data

The Stored Data notation dentifies any type of data that is stored.
Use of the Stored Data symbol shown in a example flow chart
Arrows in flow charts

Arrows

Arrows show the sequence and direction of flow through the flow chart. Often this will be the flow of an output from one activity to another activity e.g. authorise the payment make the payment.

References and Further Reading

Example Flow Charts - view an image or download real world examples in PDF and Visio.

Business Process Management (BPM) - understand what BPM is and how it is used. Review the BPM lifecycle and the rules of mapping business processes.

BPM examples - explore 12 FREE examples of Business Process Models.

Damelio, R. 1996. The Basics of Process Mapping. Portland: Productivity, Inc. Buy latest version.

DePaul University, 2017. Flowcharts. [online] Available at: http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/flowcharts.htm [Accessed 23 April 2017].

ConceptDraw, 2017. How to Draw a Flowchart [online] Available at: http://www.conceptdraw.com/How-To-Guide/how-to-draw-flowchart [Accessed 23 April 2017].


 
 


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