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What do the different symbols mean in a flow chart or process chart?

In business it is very important to keep track of all that you do. It is important to keep track of the different processes you go through when manufacturing or producing products. This is mainly done through flow charts. Flow charts, or process charts, are charts that use symbols to follow the steps of the different processes you go through. They can be a very helpful and a very useful tool if you understand the different symbols in the chart. Here are definitions of some of the main symbols in a flowchart:

A long, flat oval: This picture is an oval lying on its side. You will find one of these symbols at the beginning and the end of a flow chart. That is its function. The lying down oval shows where the process started and where it ended. The two ovals you will find on flow charts are like book ends. If you are going to have a successful process you have to have a beginning and an end, they hold together everything that is in between.

A line with an arrow on the end of it: This picture is a flow line. The flow line points the directions in your process. It points to the logical steps that follow one after another. The flow line is the thing that connects each of the symbols together in a coherent way. Without the flow line the chart would just be a bunch of floating shapes with no connections.

A parallelogram: The parallelogram is used to show that there was either an input or an output made. You either add something to the process or take something from it.

A rectangle: When there is a rectangle at some point in the process it means that that was a point where something in the process was carried out. Sometime in the process you will come to a point where the process cannot move forward without you doing something to help it continue to move forward. Maybe you went out and bought a necessary piece of equipment that makes it so the process can continue to move along.

A diamond: When you see a diamond in the chart it means that you have come to a point where you need to make a decision. A diamond means that you can go one way or the other. The process should continue along one of the two paths that become available. Either way you will come to the end of the process.

A flow chart can be a very helpful tool when stating a new process. It takes you right through the process showing what steps you need to take and what different directions you could go depending on the decisions you make. It is a great way to put down on paper what you need to get done. If you are standing at one point looking forward and all you can see is the step in front of you, it would be hard to take the correct steps. It would be like standing at the beginning of a maze only knowing that you can either turn right or left. The flow chart is your map that shows you where to turn so that you get through the maze successfully. It allows you to see the big picture and helps to avoid confusion and problems.

Using tools like flow charts in your business planning can greatly help the effectiveness of your business. They can push your business ahead of where it would be otherwise.

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