Workflow Diagram: What is and how to do it

A workflow diagram is nothing more than a visual representation of the series of actions defining a specific job or, more generically, how a work should be done.

Diagraming your workflow allows you to visualize and define how will your daily tasks flow between steps of the process and the resources necessary for its fulfilment as well as the conditions necessary for it to move along (if you’re using Pipefy, the steps of your process are the phases and the conditions are the required fields).

A workflow diagram can be done with the aid of illustrations or just a series of descriptions within a flowchart, with the usual boxes and diamonds.

What is a workflow diagram used for?

Having an actual visual representation of your workflow will normally be required for documentation and implementation purposes.

Why is that, you’re asking yourself? It’s because this map you’re drawing will provide you with a general overview of your process or processes. It’s needed especially as the foundation for other more complex documentation, such as new projects, data flow diagrams, etc.

Some of you’re processes (or even all of them, in the worst case scenario) can be too complex for a simple understanding by all members of your staff. It’s been scientifically proven, though, that visual representations such as a workflow diagram (containing the steps, the tasks and the requirements) make it a lot easier for understanding – after all, a picture is actually worth more than a thousand words.

When looking at your workflow diagram you must have a clear outline of what outcome(s) are expected out of it and what steps you must go through to achieve said outcomes. A visual representation will give a concrete starting point to every task contained in your workflow.

Having your workflows well documented with the help of a workflow diagram sure makes it a lot easier for employees to understand what their roles and responsibilities are within said process. It makes it possible for everyone to look at the big picture and consider all potential scenarios that derive from the steps of your process.

A workflow diagram will also serve as a very useful tool for further research and understanding of your processes – a visual representation makes it a lot easier for you to see how and where it can be changed, improved or even automated with a help of a workflow management tool.

Having something to actually “look at” will also come in handy to achieve everyone’s agreement on how things should be done. It also helps identify problems upfront and reducing errors.

How can I diagram a workflow?

The process is quite simple: each step in your workflow will be represented in your workflow diagram with an abstract shape, like a box, or a little drawing to represent said step. The steps will then be connected by arrows to indicate how the tasks flow, from the beginning until the end.

To make this “drawing” part even easier, you can use simple online flowchart tools, such as draw.io or lucid chart (these two are my favourites but if you’d rather find an alternative that suits you best, simple google “flowchart tools” and voilà, you’ll have the word to chose from.

If you decide to use draw.io (as I did for the example above), or any other online flowchart drawing tool, the process of diagramming your workflow will be quite similar (you can even do this drawing process using powerpoint, but these specific softwares will make life easier).

Workflow diagram steps:

1. Identify:

The starting point of diagramming any workflow should be the same: identify the process (or processes) you want to diagram. A process, in this case, will be any repeatable series of steps. Look for any activities done through following the same steps every time and you’ll know you have a process.

Then, properly identify this process by giving It an intuitive and easily understandable name (go for specific instead of broad, it’ll make it much simpler to identify your workflows).

2. Define the beginning and the end:

That should be the easy part: what sets the process in motion and what identifies it’s over. Having clear beginning and end will make identifying the steps in between much easier (and also avoid those annoying boxes to the side that don’t belong anywhere in the process.

If you’re using a flowchart drawing tool to help you, you should add symbols for both the beginning and the end of your process (I went for simple rectangles, but you can be as graphic as you want to).

3. Create the process:

Now you have your workflow’s beginning and end, you should proceed by making a list, or simply adding to the drawing, all that happens in between. If you’re not so sure of the steps, you can make a draft using pen on a whiteboard (or pencil and paper), to allow for simpler edition.

However, if you’re already using a drawing tool, keep on adding the steps and connecting them to the previous shape(s) to determine how the tasks flow, or should flow.

4. Exceptions and Rules:

Always think about every possible scenario for your process’ steps. If there’s a possible alternative flow, draw it as well (better be safe than sorry, right?).

Decision boxes normally help you cover all the possibilities and variations.

5. Show it off:

After you’ve finished your workflow diagram, showcase it to the stakeholders involved and consult them to make sure your diagram is complete and accurate.

A workflow diagram is very important for it offers you visual aid for the many possible needs we’ve listed above. If you’re already using an online workflow management tool, such as Pipefy, making a workflow diagram should be easier for you’ve already set the phases of your workflow.

Furthermore, the diagram can also be very useful to help identify what could be done better on your existing processes.


Manage your workflows easily!

Try Pipefy! We help companies keep organised and more productive by running their processes and day-by-day routines on an easy and intuitive workflow management tool, making them leave in the past inefficient manual forms, spreadsheets and email threads.

Our pre-designed templates will make your life easier by offering models based on the market’s best practices for common business processes.

Written by Isabelle Salemme, Product content manager at Pipefy. She uses her extensive Pipefy knowledge to write informative pieces teaching users to make the best of Pipefy. Besides being responsible for all product-related content, she's an avid reader, a coffee lover and a professional photographer.