What is a flowchart?
A flowchart is a diagram that uses symbols and arrows to visualize a process.
A flowchart is a diagram that uses symbols and arrows to visualize a process. Flowcharts, also known as flow diagrams, are a handy way to design and document each step in a workflow and illustrate how they’re interconnected. Using a standardized set of symbols, including shapes and arrows, flowcharts make it possible to communicate complex processes using a shared visual language.
Flowcharts were first used in the computing world in the 1940s. As Indiana University professor Nathan Ensmenger explains, “The idea was that an analyst would examine a problem, design an algorithmic solution, and outline that algorithm in the form of a flowchart diagram.”
But flowcharts don’t start and end with computer programming. Today, flowcharts are a useful tool for building and documenting processes, both simple and complex. They’re used in a wide variety of disciplines and fields, from software development to education to business operations and beyond.
When to use a flowchart
In what scenarios does it make sense to create or use a flowchart? Let’s take a look at some common use cases. This list is by no means exhaustive — there are infinite ways to make flowcharts work for you.
You might use a flowchart when you want to:
- Document a process
- Identify potential breakdowns and bottlenecks in a process
- Visualize dependencies in a process
- Automate a manual process
- Visualize the flow of data
- Plan a project
- Identify the right person to own a task or project
- Troubleshoot technical issues
- Make a decision that involves multiple variables