Workflow Diagrams and How to Create Them
Workflow diagrams unlock potential
Your business depends on achieving high-quality results for your customers, time after time. But without uniform processes that everyone in your workforce knows by heart, it’s hard to ensure reliability. Your team members need a reference point, a visual representation of the workflows your organization wants them to follow.
Workflow diagrams provide that reference point by visually mapping the workflows that lead to optimized processes, increased productivity, and operational excellence.
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What is a workflow diagram?
Workflow diagrams display all the steps needed to complete a repeatable business process.
A key part of business process modeling, diagrams use graphics and text to display each part of a workflow and the connections between them.
Workflow diagrams may take the form of flowcharts — which show a series of steps in sequence — but there are other types of diagrams as well. You can diagram any kind of workflow, from how your sales team brings prospects through the funnel to the steps your software development team takes to test their latest build.
Putting your workflows down on (virtual) paper is a must for developing a common understanding of the workflows that make your business run — but the benefits of workflow diagrams go beyond demonstrating how to perform the processes shown. They’re a great way to analyze your workflows and identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and other areas for improvement. After all, without firmly defining how something is done, you don’t really know what changes will make a positive impact. Diagrams also help foster teamwork and collaboration by showing who’s responsible for every step of the process and how those responsibilities relate to each other.
How to use workflow diagrams
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in — workflow diagrams are a must for understanding and improving your processes. Here are a few examples of how you can diagram workflows in key business units:
- Visualizing your organization’s purchasing process, from screening to completing the purchase, helps your business consistently get what it needs at an affordable price.
- Maximizing conversions is far simpler when you’ve established a winning sales pipeline through workflow diagramming.
- The customer journey is at the heart of what makes your organization grow, so defining its most important stage — customer onboarding — with a workflow diagram is a great idea.
Workflow diagram components
Each step in a workflow has three component parts: input, transformation, and output.
Input includes everything that goes into a step. This may include any assets needed for the step, including financial, human, and information resources, as well as any actions or decisions that are required for the step.
The transformation is essentially what occurs in the step, from adding a feature to an app to moving a customer further down the funnel.
The output of a step is simply what results from carrying out the transformation.
Types of workflow diagrams
There are many ways to format and design workflow diagrams, and it can be hard to choose between them without getting lost in technical details. Take a look at some of the most well-known options below to get familiar with what choices are available.
Process flowcharts are the simplest form of workflow diagram, and possibly the most familiar to the layperson. They use simple notation to map out the workflow sequentially, based on which steps occur first in chronological order.
Swimlane diagrams split the workflow up by which business unit is responsible for which step. The final result is a series of columns, hence its name.
SIPOC — or Supplier, Input, Process, Output, Customer — is one of the most detailed and powerful diagramming methods available. It focuses on each of its titular components to create a framework that provides a granular picture of how information moves through the workflow.
Business Process Model and Notation, or BPMN, is a popular way to create workflow diagrams online. Maps created with BPMN are composed of a variety of common flowchart symbols:
- Oval: Ovals represent where the process begins and ends, so you’ll only see them twice in a diagram.
- Rectangle: Rectangles indicate either instruction or action.
- Diamond: Diamonds represent binary decisions that must be made in the workflow.
- Circle: Circles show jumps from one part of the workflow to another.
- Arrow: Arrows connect the steps of a workflow, including the jumps represented by circles.
How to create a workflow diagram in 5 steps
Creating a workflow diagram is something every organization can accomplish — especially with the right tools — but there are some basic steps your company should follow to ensure the diagram is accurate and usable.
The first step is identifying the workflows you want to diagram — and, perhaps more importantly, why you want to diagram them. You likely have some idea as to which workflows your organization, department, or team relies on, but take the time to reach out to key stakeholders and get their input as to which workflows should be codified and diagrammed first. Afterward, carefully consider your diagramming goals. Are you looking to complete the process more efficiently, or improve the quality of the workflow’s end results? Your objectives will determine how you go about the following steps, and potentially even the type of workflow diagram you should use.
2. Collect Information
Once you’ve identified the workflows you want to diagram, you’ll probably have enough information and context to produce a somewhat accurate map. But that’s not enough. You need to gather more data from the individuals involved in every step of the process, whether they’re employees, vendors, customers, or other parties. Ask them relevant questions, like what resources they need to complete each step and how they see the entire workflow, from beginning to end. This may take some time, but the more information you collect at this stage, the easier it will be to create the final diagram — and the more useful that diagram will be.
The next step is to analyze your current workflow and decide how you can improve it. You can start by looking at the steps themselves. Are they all necessary? Do any regularly cause hiccups or slowdowns? You should also examine who’s responsible for the various parts of the workflow. Are decisions made by individuals who have the requisite experience and authority? Are responsibilities evenly distributed, or are some team members stuck with a too-large workload? Work to build a workflow that reduces inefficiencies, boosts the satisfaction of all parties involved, and is flexible enough to accommodate your organization’s current and future needs.
Now you’re ready to actually design your workflow diagram. While you could handle this the old-fashioned way with pen and paper, there’s no reason to hamstring yourself. Take advantage of workflow automation software that makes diagramming much simpler. The best workflow automation solutions even provide templates that you can use as-is or easily modify to suit your needs. Workflow automation tools also enable sharing your workflows throughout the company, as well as editing them when necessary.
Finally, see how your workflow diagram performs in the wild, and make any adjustments that would further improve it. Perhaps you can automate more of the workflow than you thought, or maybe there’s a step you could add to keep the process on track. You should also consider doing a trial run of the diagrammed workflow before you implement it at scale. You’ll likely discover beneficial ways to tweak it that will smooth the adoption process for the rest of the organization.
Start diagramming workflows today
Workflow diagrams can form the basis of consistent success and revenue growth for your organization, so making their creation and implementation as simple and pain-free as possible should be a top business priority. Pipefy is an intuitive, powerful workflow automation platform that makes diagramming, automating, and streamlining workflows easy. Whether your jam is HR, finance, sales, or something else, Pipefy can turn you into a rockstar on the job.