What Is a Flow Chart?

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By Nicholas Hebb
Flow Chart Defined
A flow chart is a graphical or symbolic representation of a process. Each step in the process is represented by a different symbol and contains a short description of the process step. The flow chart symbols are linked together with arrows showing the process flow direction. Common Flowchart Symbols

Different flow chart symbols have different meanings. The most common flow chart symbols are: * Terminator: An oval flow chart shape indicating the start or end of the process. * Process: A rectangular flow chart shape indicating a normal process flow step. * Decision: A diamond flow chart shape indication a branch in the process flow. * Connector: A small, labeled, circular flow chart shape used to indicate a jump in the process flow. (Shown as the circle with the letter “A”, below.) * Data: A parallelogram that indicates data input or output (I/O) for a process. * Document: Used to indicate a document or report (see image in sample flow chart below). (A complete list of flow chart symbols can be found in the flowchart symbol definitions article.) A simple flow chart showing the symbols described above can be seen below:

Three Alternate Definitions of Flow Chart
The above definition is correct, but it falls short of describing the coolness of flow charts. Q: Did you just say “the coolness of flow charts”?
A: Yes, I did.
I know that sounds a little ridiculous, but in my years as a manufacturing engineer, flow charts and Pareto charts were my two favorite tools for characterizing and improving processes. As such, I learned to appreciate the different ways that you can use them. As-Is Flowchart

The first cool thing about flow charts is that they let you see the process flow at a glance, so my first alternate definition of "Flow Chart" is a Snap Shot of your Business Processes. This is commonly called an As-Is Flowchart. You can tell a lot about the complexity (and often over-complexity) of many business...
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