Both projects and business processes consist of a series of activities that need to be planned, scheduled and tracked. A workflow diagram is one of the tools project managers and team leaders can use to map out tasks and workflows.
What Is a Workflow Diagram?
A workflow diagram lets you map all the activities of a business process or project in one flow chart so you can easily visualize workflows. Workflow diagrams are commonly used for project planning, business process mapping and business process modeling, but they can have other applications in industries like manufacturing and engineering.
Creating a workflow diagram is just the first step toward business process improvement. ProjectManager is online work management software that goes beyond workflow diagrams by letting you create automated workflows to eliminate busy work and accelerate your team’s productivity. Plus, you can build fully-fledged project plans on Gantt charts, kanban boards, task lists and more. Get started today for free.
What Are Workflow Diagrams Used For?
As stated above, workflow charts can be used for a wide variety of purposes. However, they’re primarily used for business process management (BPM) and project management.
How Do Workflow Diagrams Help In Business Process Management (BPM)?
A business process is a set of activities that allows an organization to achieve its strategic goals and business objectives. Workflow diagrams help business leaders better understand the business processes and their organization’s operational needs. With this information, they can create strategies to improve the overall efficiency of their business.
How Do Workflow Diagrams Help with Project Management?
Workflow diagrams are beneficial to project management for a variety of reasons. First, it helps team members better understand the task sequences in which they’re involved. This creates better communication between departments and gives teams a firm grasp on what they have to do. Also, when a new person is onboarded, having a business process mapping tool like a workflow diagram speeds up the time it takes for the new hire to get acclimated with the project.
Workflow diagrams also help unveil potential roadblocks and bottlenecks in your project schedule before you execute it. A workflow chart, therefore, identifies areas that can throw your overall project plan off track. This gives you time to brainstorm process improvement strategies with the team before an issue negatively impacts your schedule and/or budget.
What Shapes & Symbols Should Be Included in a Workflow Diagram?
A workflow diagram uses symbols to map steps in a business process. These steps show the activities needed to turn inputs into outputs. Here’s how these workflow diagram symbols work.
- Oval: Notes the start and end points of a workflow diagram.
- Rectangle: Represent an activity within a business process.
- Arrow: Shows the transition from one task to another to help understand how the workflow progresses.
- Diamond: Depict decision-making steps that determine the next activity.
- Circle: Used to connect different sections of a workflow diagram.
How to Create a Workflow Diagram
As noted above, a workflow diagram doesn’t magically appear. You have to do the work, which involves analysis. Follow these steps to make a workflow diagram:
- Identify all the activities in your business process: Outline the activities involved in your business process. You can use a work breakdown structure to do so. You’ll also want to determine the order in which these tasks will be sequenced.
- Define start and end points: The workflow diagram needs a kick-off point to start the process and an end goal where that process is completed. It’s not illustrating a continuous process but, like any project, one with a beginning and an end. It’s the first step when drafting your workflow diagram.
- Map your business process activities: From top to bottom, start mapping out your activities using rectangles. If there’s a point where an inspection needs to be made, use a diamond symbol, as shown in our workflow diagram example. Then, continue to map activities until you’ve reached the last one, which will be followed by an oval symbol, depicting the end of your workflow diagram.
Workflow Diagram Examples
As stated above, workflow diagrams are versatile and can virtually map any task sequence or business process from diverse industries. The best way to understand how a workflow diagram works is to make one. For that reason, we’ve created two simple workflow diagram examples. Our first workflow diagram example shows the steps that a manufacturing company takes to order raw materials from a known supplier. The second illustrates the main pre-construction steps a project owner would take to select a general contractor and begin his construction project.
Manufacturing Workflow Diagram
Imagine you have a manufacturing business. The starting point for this workflow diagram is when you’ve received a large purchase order from a buyer. The first thing to do is check your production capacity to confirm whether your facility is able to manufacture the units that your client wants to buy from you.
Then, you should check your production inventory to assess whether you have enough raw materials. The next step is to do careful demand planning to estimate what raw materials are needed not only for this project but also considering the future needs of your business.
Once you’ve done demand planning along with business forecasting, market research and other techniques to estimate demand, you can then order raw materials from your supplier. Once you receive the raw material, it’s important to inspect it before accepting it. This is represented by a diamond symbol below in our workflow diagram example because it involves a decision whether you find the raw materials to be acceptable or not. If they are, you’re ready to get add those raw materials to your production inventory, which marks the end of this simple workflow diagram.
Construction Workflow Diagram
Every construction project is unique and might be planned differently depending on the organization. This workflow diagram shows some simple pre-construction steps a small construction project management team uses to get everything lined up for their construction phase.
Let’s say you’re about to hire a general contractor to make a building. You’d first start by defining your project scope, budget and timeline, which will go into your construction plan. Then you’d hire an architect to create a schematic design, which will help you and your team estimate your construction costs. Once you have a better idea of what your final design would look like, you can proceed to check the regulation for construction projects like yours and get any permits that might be needed, early on in the process to help you establish its feasibility.
Now you can use your schematic design and other information from the architectural design process to acquire materials and then evaluate bids from general contractors, as represented with a diamond symbol in the workflow example below. Once you choose a general contractor, you can proceed with a site analysis, a preconstruction meeting and get started with the construction phase.
Types of Workflow Diagrams
You can illustrate a workflow diagram in several ways:
- ANSI flowchart: The ANSI flowchart uses symbols from the American National Standards Institute, hence the acronym. It’s the most commonly used variation.
- UML Activity: UML, or unified modeling language, graphically shows the order of the steps in a process. It also represents the flow of control.
- Business Modeling Notation: The business process modeling notation (BPMN) is similar to the UML, but is more likely used by technical and business people that focus on business processes and information rather than output.
- Swimlane: Swimlane is a diagram that separates the different parts of an organization to highlight the interaction between these units. It gives users a high-level view that exposes potential inefficiencies.
- SIPOC: The supplier, input, process, output, customer, or SIPOC shows who created and received the data. It also outlines the high-level processes involved.
Free Tools for Making a Workflow Chart
Drawing a network diagram by hand is good for getting your point across, but in terms of using one for a project, you need something that is clear and easy to read at a glance. Unless you have a facility with drawing and good penmanship, it’s probably better to use a diagramming tool. They’re easier to share and edit, too. The following are a few free ones to get you started.
- edraw by wondershare: This free diagram solution makes workflow charts but also mid maps, and other visual tools. Great for collaboration.
- draw.io: This free diagram-maker works with Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, GitHub and more. It makes flowcharts, process diagrams, network diagrams and much more.
- SmartDraw: This free drawing program has many templates to get you started, from flowcharts to floorplans. It integrates with Google Workspace, Microsoft Office, Atlassian’s Confluence and Jira.
How ProjectManager Helps With Workflow Management
Knowing your process and mapping a workflow diagram is only the start. You have to implement that plan and execute it on time and within the agreed-upon budget. That takes visibility into the process and resource management tools to keep your team working at capacity. ProjectManager is online software that delivers real-time data to make more insightful decisions to control your workflow.
Create Workflows on Kanban Boards
Turning a workflow diagram into a tool that gives teams assignments and managers transparency into their work requires kanban boards. Kanban boards help visualize agile workflows, allowing teams to manage their backlog and work collaboratively to plan sprints. Managers can view the board and catch bottlenecks before they block the team and reallocate resources to keep them working. Even if the manager is working on one of the other multiple project views such as our interactive Gantt chart, all data is updated simultaneously on the kanban workflow.
Manage and Track Resources
Workflow diagrams show the path forward for teams but resource management tools keep them working productively. One thing to manage is how many tasks you’ve assigned to each team member. Our color-coded workload chart makes it fast and easy to see who is overallocated and who has too few assignments. Then you can reallocate resources right from the workload chart and balance your team’s tasks to keep them working at their best.
Report on Progress on the Fly
Stakeholders want to see your workflow chart but as the project proceeds, they’ll also want data on its progress. One-click reports on tasks, time, budget and more can be filtered to show just the information they want. These reports are easily shared as a PDF attachment or even printed out if that’s how they prefer to get their status updates.
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Don’t rest the success of your project on workflow diagrams alone. You have the map now you need to get there with project management tools that help teams collaborate, automate workflows and help monitor, track and report on performance. ProjectManager is award-winning software that organizes work to help you achieve your goals. Our work management tool is designed to work with hybrid teams no matter where they are, how they like to work or their skill level. Turn your workflow diagram into an interactive project management tool. Try ProjectManager today for free.