How to use flow charts,
with James Manktelow & Amy Carlson.
James Manktelow: Hello, I'm James Manktelow, CEO of MindTools.com, home to hundreds of free, career-boosting tools and resources.
Amy Carlson: And I'm Amy Carlson from Mind Tools.
Have you ever had to teach someone how to do a new task, or use a new process?
If so, you probably know it's easy for instructions to get misunderstood, or even forgotten along the way.
This is why flow charts are so useful.
Flow charts build a step-by-step picture of a process, so that people can see quickly what they need to do.
Standard symbols are used for certain actions, so that people can understand what they need to do for each step of the process.
JM: Most flow charts are made using three main shapes.
The first shape is an elongated circle. This signifies the start or the end of the process.
The next shape is the rectangle, which signifies instructions or actions.
The other main shape used in flow charts is the diamond. This represents where a decision needs to be made.
All of these symbols are connected to each other by arrows, which show the flow of the process from one step to the next.
There are many other symbols that you can use in your flow chart, but keep in mind that these charts are used for communication.
If you use a lot of obscure shapes in your diagram, then people might get confused. It's best to keep things as simple as possible.
AC: Before you create your flow chart, brainstorm every step and decision that must be made to complete the process successfully.
Ask yourself, What really needs to happen in this process? Does a decision need to be made before the next step?
When you're ready to draw your flow chart, start with the elongated circle. Then, move on to the next stage of the process.
For instance, imagine you're creating a flow chart to teach your team how to handle customer calls.
Your team's first step is to answer the phone. This is an action, so answering the phone would go into a rectangle.
Then, your team must ask the customer how they can help them. This is a decision, so this step would go into a diamond shape.
JM: Your flow chart is going to divide into different directions here, since there are several options to consider.
First, the customer might want to place an order. So you'd draw an arrowed line off to one side to create a new set of steps for product ordering.
If the customer needs help with a product problem, then this will be a new set of steps, going straight down.
And so on.
AC: Once you've thought of every step and contingency, and completed your flow chart, your team should be able to learn how to answer customer calls correctly just by looking at the completed chart.
Every step, every action, and every decision that must be made should be represented in the chart.
You can find out more about using flow charts in the article that accompanies this video.