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Flowchart vs. Process Map: What’s the Difference?

Flowchart vs. Process Map: What’s the Difference?

What is a Flowchart?

A flowchart is a diagram of several boxes or other shapes connected with arrows, wherein each box is text that represents a step in a process or workflow. It is meant to reflect the process or workflow step-by-step, in sequential order, with multiple boxes having various arrows off-shooting from them, connecting more boxes in order to account for variables. Typically, a flow chart works from the top, working its way down, but this is not necessarily required.

The Benefits of A Flowchart

A major benefit of a flowchart is that it gives a visual representation of the various steps involved in a workflow. This can make large amounts of information easier to digest and connections easier to understand. They are also easy to create. The visual component of being able to see steps and connections one by one makes it easy to see mistakes in the workflow. A flowchart also simplifies analysis and contributes greatly to being able to see the big picture.

How to Create a Flowchart

Before you make a flowchart, it is necessary to know exactly why you are making one and for whom. Some reasons include trying to make a complex process easier to comprehend, improving business processes by spotting bottlenecks, communicating a process to someone, or standardizing a process to make it more efficient. By knowing the purpose of your flowchart, it will make it simpler to choose the template you want to use for it as well as decide how informal or formal you want the presentation to be.

Next, you will either choose a template to work with from an online source or just make one freehand on a chalkboard, piece of paper, etc. Whichever you choose, it is important to decide what kind of shapes you want to use. Will you just use one uniform shape, or will you have a few different shapes, with each shape representing something unique? Some common shape examples and their typical meanings would be:

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  • Terminal or oval – This shape is generally meant to signify the start and end of a
    flowchart.
  • Rectangle – Typically, this is the shape you will see the most often on a flowchart, and
    it usually signifies an operation, task, or action.
  • Diamond – This shape usually signifies a decision, and the text inside generally poses a
    yes/no type of question and then will have offshoot arrows that take different paths,
    depending on the answer.
  • Circle – Circles are typically used to connect another section of the chart in instances where it does not make sense to use an arrow.

Once you know what shapes you will use, you can begin your flowchart with a terminal or oval with a starting word as the text. At the top, underneath the terminal, you will begin with your first action. You will then make an arrow connecting to a connected action and split paths wherever it is appropriate. When you have finished the flowchart to its conclusion, you will add another terminal to signify the chart’s end.

What is a Process Map?

A process map is a tool that gives a visual representation of the various inputs, outputs, and actions involved in a process, outlined in a sequential and clear manner.

The Benefits of a Process Map

There are some major benefits to mapping out processes. A process map helps increase one’s understanding of a process as well as provides an easy way to analyze where improvements can be made. It breaks down steps for others along with improving communication within a team working on a project. A process map also serves as documentation of a process that can be used as a reference.

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How to Create a Process Map

When creating a process map, you will first want to identify what process needs to be visualized. Next, it is important to decide all the activities that will be involved, how much detail will be used, and what the start/end point of the map will be. Then, you will sequence the steps, using the appropriate shapes. Once complete, you should go over the map with your team to make sure that there is consensus.

Flowchart vs Process Map: What’s the Difference?

Many believe that flowcharts and process maps can be used interchangeably, but this is not exactly true. While they are very similar to one another, there is a noteworthy difference. While flowcharts break down the steps of a workflow, process maps can get much more detailed than flowcharts and also contain a timeline.

Flowchart vs Process Map: Who would use A and/or B?

Flowcharts and process maps could be used by the same audience, except when more detail is needed and there needs to be a timeline attached. For instances where it is important to understand how much time is taken in the various steps of a process and in the overall process, a process map would be the more appropriate choice.

Choosing Between a Flowchart and a Process Map: Real World Scenarios

A toy manufacturer is planning on launching a new line in time for the holidays. There are many steps involved in the launch in order to get the line into the stores by the time holiday shopping typically begins. A meeting is held so that the board of directors can sort out the various steps involved. This includes lining up suppliers, doing the design work, building a prototype, running safety tests, doing a test market for the toy, developing a marketing plan, and more. All these steps will be on a strict timeline in order to get the new line in stores on time. One member of the board proposes a flowchart of the various steps involved so that the board can get a full understanding. Once the board member makes the flowchart, there are a lot of questions from the other members of the board about how long each step should take, as the duration of the steps is not illustrated in the flowchart. The board member, instead, creates a process map, which includes all the steps as well as the time involved in the various steps in order to get the toys out on time.

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Summary/Conclusion

Flowcharts and process maps are both very powerful visual tools that can break down the steps of a workflow or process into an easy-to-digest representation. If, however, you are wanting to get very detailed or a timeline is a necessary factor in the process, a process map is preferred over a flowchart.

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