What are Flowcharts?

Using an example of washing laundry, this video walks through the process of creating a simple flowchart and discusses why flowcharts can be useful in many other contexts. It teaches:

  • Why it’s important to be able to visualize a process
  • How processes can be understood and improved using a flowchart
  • Why organizations use flowcharts
  • How to structure a simple flowchart

Video Transcript: When we pick out clothes, make breakfast or wash dishes, we go through processes with multiple steps.

To make one of these processes more efficient, we need a way to visualize it. This means laying out steps and decisions so we can truly understand how it works. With this understanding, we can improve the process or teach it to someone else.

A flowchart is a great way to draw and understand a process. The big idea is that almost any process can be drawn and analyzed using a flowchart.

Organizations large and small use flowcharts to understand and improve processes to help the them be more efficient. This could include how a product is built in a factory, how travelers move through an airport, or how a computer program is designed.

Let’s look at a simple example. Imagine it’s time to do the laundry. Your clothes need to be washed with a washing machine. We’ll use a set of standard flowchart shapes to draw this process.

Each process has a beginning, like deciding to do laundry. We’ll use an oval as our starting point. Now we need a way to connect that starting point to the next step, so we’ll use a line with an arrow. Next we’ll need to gather the clothes to be washed. This is an activity and we’ll use a rectangle for this step.

Now, we need to make a decision about the clothes with a yes or no answer. We’ll use a diamond that points to each answer. We’ll sort the clothes by asking whether the fabric is white or not.

This splits the process in two, with different activities. Clothes with colored fabric are washed with cold water and clothes with white fabric are washed with hot water.

In both cases, we take specific steps to add soap, turn on the washer and inspect the clothes when finished. With this process complete, we have another decision: are the clothes clean?
If so, yay, the process is finished. If not, the process can start over with a new input, symbolized by a parallelogram.

The clothes with colored fabric get a stain remover added and clothes with white fabric get bleach added.

We’ve now drawn a flowchart to visualize and understand a process. Each step and decision is represented, along with what to do when activities have different results. This may help us improve the process, or show someone how to wash clothes effectively.

By laying out each step of a process in a standard way, we can not only understand it and find ways to improve it, but help others learn and see it from a new perspective.


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Last updated on 15th December 2021 by Eran Bucai

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