A flowchart is a diagrammatic representation of a sequence of steps. According to the website of corporate consulting firm Mind Tools, flowcharts can be used to define and analyze business process to find areas of improvement. They are also used to map software and hardware algorithms. Flowcharts consist of symbols connected by arrows. The most common symbols are the elongated circle for the start and end of a process or algorithm, the rectangle for actions and diamonds for decision points.
List the process tasks. Mind Tools suggests that you "brainstorm" the task requirements by asking questions as to what happens or should happen and in what sequence. Enterprise technology architect Craig Borysowich suggests on the IT Toolbox website that interviews, questionnaires and company site visits might be required if you are asked to analyze an existing business process.
In software or hardware development projects, the requirements might be specified by the customer. Engineers would begin the preliminary design process by mapping the requirements onto flowcharts.
Represent actions and decision points on the flowchart. An action is one or more tasks that must be executed. A decision point involves one or more actions based on a conditional test: for example, execute an action one hundred times and then stop. Connect the various shapes by arrows to indicate both sequence and direction of data flow. Label the shapes and the connecting arrows. Note that the shapes might require their own flowcharts.
For example, a software algorithm to accept user input and display a message might consist of the following: prompt for input, accept input, check for errors and display an input-valid or input-error message. To prepare the flowchart for this simple algorithm, write "Start" inside an elongated shape, "Prompt for Input" and "Accept Input" inside two rectangles to represent the first two tasks, and "Is Input Valid?" inside a diamond to represent the error checking process. Connect the shapes with arrows. Next, draw two arrows labeled "True" and "False" that originate from the diamond: connect the "Yes" arrow to a rectangle labeled "Display Valid Input Message" and the "False" arrow to a rectangle labeled "Display Error Message." Connect the final two rectangles to an elongated shape labeled "End" to indicate the end of the algorithm.
Map complex processes and algorithms onto multiple flowcharts. Do not cram too much information on one chart because it can be confusing. Instead, use numbered circles to connect flowcharts on multiple pages.
Verify your work. Mind Tools suggests that you "challenge" your flow chart, which means checking your assumptions and ensuring that the required tasks have been represented in the correct sequence.
Analyze the process or algorithm. Flowcharts allow you to look at a sequence of steps and determine if some of them are redundant or could be rearranged in a better way. For example, a human resource selection process flowchart might reveal optimization opportunities by combining certain steps, such as candidate interviews and examinations, or conducting some of them concurrently, such as advertising for candidates on multiple platforms and conducting preliminary screening on the resumes as they come in.