The purpose of a flowchart is to provide a graphic representation of the elements, components, or tasks associated with a process.
Flowcharts are helpful for documentation purposes and, through standardized symbols, promote a common understanding of process steps and the relationships/ dependencies among those process steps.
Flowcharts can be prepared for and used at a high level, where readers/users of the flowcharts may not be familiar with process-specific jargon or terminology. In the high-level application, flowcharts are intended to help readers/users understand what may be a complex process without providing unnecessary, and potentially confusing, detail.
Likewise, flowcharts can be prepared for and used at a detail level where readers/users have familiarity and expertise with a given process. In the detail-level application, flowcharts are intended to help readers/users perform analyses most commonly related to optimization or process improvement.
- Select a start and stop point. A flowchart, by definition, must specify start and end points. Since it is possible to have many flowcharts describing various sections, elements, or components of a process, particularly when the process gets large and complex, start and end points for flowcharts are defined in terms of boundaries. Boundaries are naturally occurring breaks or division points that separate processes or systems at the macro level or sections, elements, or components of a process at the micro level.
- List major steps/tasks and decision points. List, in sequential order, each of the major steps or tasks and decision points that occur as part of the process between the start and stop points.
- Use standardized graphical symbols to document the process. Using standardized symbols, document each of the steps/tasks identified above. Placement of appropriately labeled symbols and use of arrows defines the sequence of events. Four primary flowcharting symbols are depicted in Figure. While there are many symbols for flowcharting, these primary flowcharting symbols are capable of an adequate for documenting any process.
- Review results. Compare the flowchart with the process to verify that the flowchart is complete and accurately describes the process. Having more than one person independently verify the flowchart is generally considered standard protocol.
Hallock, Alper, and Karsh (2006) present a process improvement study on diagnostic testing in an outpatient healthcare facility. The purpose of the study was to determine what factors contributed to the delay of notification of test results to patients. A general flowchart for overall diagnostic testing process was presented similar to the one in Figure.