The Process Flow Chart.

What is a Process Flow Chart (Process Flow Diagram)?

The process flow chart is widely attributed to have been first devised by Frank Gilbert, an American engineer in 1921, who introduced the concept to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. The flow chart has now become widely applied in organizational understanding and improvement activities.

A process flow chart is a logical, relatively easy to understand chart, which displays how a process operates via using standard symbols to represent activity. The flow chart will show each activity within a process, all the potential decision stages and changes in activity resulting from each decision. The various activities and decisions are linked together by arrows showing how the process flows between one activity and the next and flows before and after decisions are taken.

The following is an example of a flowchart, based around a manufacturing process, with components being received into an incoming inspection point. Inspections are performed and the components are either deemed acceptable or un-acceptable. The components then progress into production and are subject to a final test. If acceptable are dispatched to the customer. Throughout the process data is recorded. At the incoming inspection point, some parts may be rejected and need to get returned back to a supplier. Also during the process, instructions will be received in the form of inputs into the process i.e. “request from Production”.



A process flow chart is the first step in any process improvement effort. A process flow chart shows graphically how the various inputs, outputs and tasks within a process are related. In order to systematically plan or examine any process, it is necessary to record the series of events and activities, stages and decisions, into a manner which can be easily understood, and communicated to all. If you want to improve a process you must first clearly understand the process. The flowchart or process map, allows an individual or team to obtain a clearer understanding of the system or process under consideration, that would not otherwise be possible without the use of a flow chart. Process flowcharting or mapping is a communications tool.

 

When can you use and apply process flow charts?

i) If you wish to understand how a process currently operates.

ii) If are you seeking to identify opportunities for improvement.

iii) When problems are being experienced in the operation of a process, flowcharting is a first step in identifying the cause of such problems.

iv) If a process is not achieving the performance expectations per the original design intent.

v) If customer complaints are being received from the outputs of a process.

vi) When there is a need to communicate how a process is structured or how the process needs to operate.

vii) In order to fully document a process, flowcharting provides a logical order in which to document.

viii) When planning a project, the stages in the project can be shown in a logical sequence, with timelines, decision stages, etc.. detailed onto the flow chart.

ix) If a process is experiencing bottlenecks, analysis of how the process is structured can help identify the reasons for the bottlenecks.

x) Flowcharts are very useful in process improvement, as they clearly show areas of inefficiency, inconsistency, waste of resources, repetition, undefined outcomes, etc..

 

Simplicity is the power behind the process flow chart.

Process flow charting can be a very powerful means to communicate how a process operates and has many benefits in terms of facilitating failure analysis, improvement opportunity identification, efficiency optimization, training, etc.. It is important that the process flow is shown in a clear, easy to understand format. At times process flow charts can be created which are very complex. In such situations, an overview flow chart should be created with top level process flows, then lower level process flows should be developed which show more detailed activity.

One of the key benefits of process flowcharting is the ability to break down a process into individual understandable segments, then analysis can be performed on these lower level activities as a means of driving change and improvement into the overall process.

Consider the process as shown below. In this process the “quarantine” stage may in fact be a full process in itself. The “quarantine” process could be added into the overall manufacturing process flow, however, it would become excessively complex and difficult to understand.



An option is to create a separate process flow for just the “quarantine” process itself.



 

The original process flow is now revised to show potential product flows back into the process at the pre-final inspection stage or alternatively product flows onto dispatch.



The above is a relatively simple example, however it shows the strength of process flowcharting by allowing even the most complex of processes to be simplified to the required level of detail based on the understanding, knowledge and requirements of those seeking to extract value from a process.

 

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