If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a flowchart can be worth thousands of dollars. When conveying complex ideas and processes, a well thought-out flowchart will help you swiftly evolve your rough ideas into sophisticated flows. The streamlined product can help you easily get buy-in from cross-functional collaborators and stakeholders, too. Here’s how to start flowcharting, a dive into how they’re used, and more.
Ready to give collaborative flowcharting a try?
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Flowchart meaning and history
The flowchart has been around since 1921, when Frank Gilberth, introduced the first flowchart to graphically represent a process. His chart aimed to improve efficiencies, particularly for a business’s production, accounting, and finance, and used a set of shapes to show specific actions. Gilbirth’s approach became a widely accepted practice for clearly mapping data flow and operations in early computer programming.
Today’s typical flowchart uses standard shapes to visualize a problem and maps the intended solution. Your chart can be as complicated as you want and need, ranging from simple sketched shapes to robust computer-generated diagrams that break down complex ideas into digestible, easy-to-understand pieces.
Traditional flowcharts have standardized symbols. Some of them include:
- Ovals for the start and end points
- Arrows for connecting shapes and showing direction of flow
- Parallelograms for data inputs and outputs
- Rectangles for processes
- Diamonds for decisions
- Triangles for merging of steps
- Circles for inspection points
To start flowcharting, all you need is a digital whiteboard (like Freehand). Pick a shape, click the shape to add text directly, and connect using a snappy line connector to share ideas fluidly.
Flowcharting should be collaborative, continually evolving throughout the creation process. Freehand’s real-time commenting feature gives you and your collaborators an outlet to add clarity or provide feedback without making changes to the graphic.
You don’t even need to start from scratch, either. Whether you’re sketching a customer experience flow, creating a process map, or visualizing a marketing campaign flow, you can use this free flowchart maker template.
Today, flowcharting is a powerful practice not just for operations and technical teams — product and creative teams can also reap the benefits.
For project management purposes, flowcharting helps set up common understanding and alignment across stakeholders and identify the most efficient workflow. It’s an easy way to streamline swimlanes and illustrate how cross-functional teams would ideally collaborate to support a new project.
For example, AWS uses this flowchart template (with its own key and symbols) to workshop potential architecture solutions before creating a final diagram.
Other flowchart uses
To follow regulations while scaling a business, organizations often rely on flowcharting to document existing processes and identify redundancies.
For management teams, flowcharting is often a helpful tool in guiding decision making and finding opportunities to optimize activities across an organization.
The uses don’t stop there: you can use flowcharts to get your ideas out (like mind mapping), or to document any process, flow, campaign, or project. In any use case, you’ll soon find that it’s worth flowing down to speed up.