Flow Chart Types

To gain a better understanding of the many different types of flowcharts that exist, it might be helpful to look at few different types in detail.

Let's begin by looking at a simple flowchart, which shows how a process moves from start to finish, through steps, decisions and actions.

A Basic Flowchart


By visualizing the process, a flowchart can quickly help identify bottlenecks or inefficiencies where a process can be streamlined or improved.

Example: Two Flowcharts for a Common Process

Suppose your research revealed that you always want fries and a drink with your burger. You decide to streamline your process by ordering the combo meal, which automatically includes fries and a drink. The two flowcharts show at a glance that you omit two decisions and two order steps by using the streamlined order process.

Flowchart of an Improved Process

If you aren't familiar with flowcharting, this short article will help provide some background on what is a flowchart and more.

Following are some thumbnail flowchart examples with brief descriptions attached. You may enlarge them for better viewing by clicking on the image.

Types of Flowcharts

Swimlane Flowchart

A swimlane flowchart is a regular flowchart where the shapes of the chart are organized into separate lanes to visualize stages, employees, departments, or any other set of separated categories.

Data Flow Diagram (DFD)

Data flow diagrams visualize how data flows through an information system in terms of inputs and outputs. They're also used to illustrate data processsing.

You start by modeling the interaction between the information system and external agents such as a database and customers. Learn how to make a data flow diagram here.

Influence Diagram (ID)

Influence diagrams are a graphical and mathematical representation of a decision.

It's considered an alternative to a decision tree or a game tree diagram.

There are four symbols that represent the building blocks of an influence diagram: a decision such as whether or not to buy a product, a chance variable such as longevity or quality of the product, a general variable like price, and an objective such as satisfaction with your purchase.

Influence diagrams can show the value of information. One piece of information may be more influential than another in making a decision. Influence is represented using arrows in the diagram. In very simple terms, price may be a bigger influencer than quality on whether or not to buy an item.

Workflow Diagram

A workflow diagram is used to illustrate the flow of data and documents through an organization for a specific product or service.

Workflow diagram is both a training tool and an analytical tool. It let's you:

  • Understand employee responsibilities
  • Identify potential bottlenecks
  • Analyze critical stages
  • Improve communication among employees and stakeholders

Process Flow Diagram (PFD)

A process flow diagram (PFD), also known as a flowsheet, is a flowchart use to illustrate high-level processes in chemical and process engineering. A PFD will focus on major plant processes and not show minor details.

  • Process piping
  • Major equipment
  • Control valves and other major valves
  • Connections with other systems
  • Major bypass and recirculation streams
  • Operational data
  • Process stream names

A Process Flow Diagram that visualizes multiple processes is often called a block flow diagram or schematic flow diagram.

Event-driven Process Chain (EPC) Diagram

EPC diagrams are flowcharts used in business process modelling and SAP R\3 that let you visualize alternative and parallel processes using logical operators such as "and" and "or".

EPC diagrams are high-level visual models used for resource planning.

Common building blocks:

  • Functions
  • Events
  • Connectors

Specification and Description Language (SDL) Diagram

SDL diagrams are used to show detailed structure, communication, behavior, data, and inheritance for real-time systems. They visualize the processes of state machines in the telecommunications, aviation, automotive and medical industries.

SDL diagrams are created using the following building blocks:

  • System definition
  • Block agent
  • Process

Value Stream Mapping

Value stream mapping is a lean manufacturing tool commonly used in manufacturing, healthcare, software & product development, logistics, supply chain and service industries.

A value stream map is used to analyze the flow of materials and information required to bring a product or service to a consumer.

How to Create a Flowchart?

Flowcharts can sometimes look intimidating and complex, but they're actually fairly easy to create. You simply begin your documentation with a starting symbol that signifies the first step of your process, then systematically add actions and decisions until you reach the end of your process. SmartDraw has a detailed guide on creating a flowchart using SmartDraw's flowcharting software here.

More Flowchart Examples

Now that you've learned the basic flowchart types, why not check out some real-world examples of flowcharts. We got a nice collection of flowchart examples here.

Flowchart Example: Financial Accounting Process

An example swimlane flowchart which depicts a standard financial accounting process.

Flowchart Example: Hiring Process Flowchart

An example flowchart which depicts a human resources hiring process.

Flowchart Example: Medical Services Flowchart

This flowchart example depicts a medical services process for routing patients.

Ready to Make Your Own Flowchart?

Download SmartDraw free and get started making flowcharts today.

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