Workflow Diagram: Definition, Types, and a Five-Step Guide to Create One

October 5, 2022
Alok Suman
Process Management

Business processes have a series of tasks that must be accomplished in a given time. What makes this even more complex is that there will be not one but multiple teams working on different tasks to complete a process. 

When multiple teams are involved, there will be miscommunication and misinformation. But all of this can be solved with an effective visual workflow diagram. 

How? A visual representation of business processes connects with the team members more easily than text-based documentation does.

It increases the transparency between processes and facilitates better communication, as team members know exactly what they need to do and what not to do.

Workflow diagrams make it easy for teams to understand processes as they reduce clutter. But most importantly, they increase the productivity of the team. 

So, what are workflow diagrams? What are the types? And how do you create them? Learn all about workflow diagrams and the best practices in this article. 

What is a Workflow Diagram?

A workflow diagram is a visual representation of the sequential tasks involved in a business process. It is similar to a flowchart; it has various shapes representing the tasks that need to be done and the members responsible for the task. 

Workflow diagram

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You might wonder, what difference does it make?

There's a saying -  ‘A picture speaks a thousand words.’

A workflow diagram follows the same concept. Communicating a task to team members through documentation or speech can be hard. 

Each task will have its priorities and complexities, and documentation might not successfully communicate the message. This is where workflow diagrams come in.

Each shape in a workflow diagram has a meaning, and it helps team members identify and understand the tasks easily and move forward with them. 

Visualization dilutes the complexity, boosts confidence, and increases transparency and accountability.

Workflow diagrams are also easy to track. In case of a discrepancy, you can easily identify the task and the individual responsible for it and make improvements. 

Why Do You Need Workflow Diagrams?

Workflow diagrams aren’t new. Businesses have been using similar iterations like process mapping, flow charts, activity diagrams, etc., for a long time. Though these iterations serve a similar purpose to workflow diagrams, they miss one crucial aspect – ease of understanding. 

What makes workflow diagrams different is they don’t just map out the business process visually; they use various shapes relevant to specific tasks, making them easier to understand than others. 

As they represent the process from top to bottom, it is easier for the team to perform tweaks or make changes to improve the process.

Let's list out some of their advantages:

  • Make it easy to analyze and troubleshoot the process.
  • Workflow diagrams show employees what needs to be done, increasing productivity, which in turn boosts your revenue.
  • Team members can understand the processes and tasks easily.
  • Minimize the complexity of the process.
  • Top-down representation makes it easy for the teams to identify and rectify bottlenecks that might slow down the process.
  • Increase transparency which facilitates better communication and teamwork.

What are the Shapes Used in Workflow Diagrams?

Workflow diagrams have a start, end, and transformation of the process denoted using various shapes. Knowing these will help you understand the representation better.

Workflow diagram shapes

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  1. Flowline: Displays the direction of the process flow, usually connecting two processes.
  2. Terminal: Specifies the start and end of a process/flowchart.
  3. Process: Denotes a specific action or task in the process. A common component in workflow diagrams.
  4. Decision: Represents the step that triggers the next process. It's a Yes/no trigger.
  5. Input/Output: Represents the step where an input or output of data takes place.
  6. Predefined process: Indicates the process that is already defined. 
  7. On-page connector: Used when a flow chart is long. Indicates when the flow chart goes to the next page.
  8. Data: Information on data input or output.
  9. Document: Represents a document.
  10. Multi-document symbol: Multiple documents.
  11. Preparation: It sets the tone for the next step.
  12. Display: Data is displayed to the user.
  13. Manual Input: Indicates the process where the data needs to be entered manually. 
  14. Manual operation: A task in the process that cannot be automated.
  15. Merge: Denotes where two different tasks meet and come out as a single task.
  16. Stored data - The step where the data is stored or backed up.
  17. OR - A step where there is more than one possible outcome.

Process, Action, Flowline, and Decision are some of the most commonly used workflow diagram symbols. 

Types of Workflow Diagrams with Examples

Shapes aren’t the only mediums used in various forms, there are also multiple types of workflow diagrams that can be used to represent various business processes, as follows:

Process Flow Diagram 

A process flow diagram is one of the most commonly used diagrams due to its flexibility. It can be used to represent any type of business process.

All the steps in the process are mapped out in chronological order. You can use this diagram to specify individual roles and responsibilities to members within the organization. 

Process flow

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Swimlane Flowchart

A swimlane flowchart is the advanced representation of a process flowchart. You can use it when you have to include multiple pieces of information or when a workflow is divided into smaller units. 

A swimlane flowchart or diagram is ideal for representing an entire process that communicates with several areas of an organization or necessitates collaboration across multiple teams.

Swimlane

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Business Process Modeling Notation

BPMN is a graphical representation of a business process using standard objects/shapes and unified modeling methods. 

BPMN is generally used for internal business processes and not in projects that involve external customers. 

BPMN

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Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customer Diagram

Just like Swimlane, SIPOC is a visual representation of multiple pieces of information within a workflow. It displays a web of tasks within the process. 

A SIPOC diagram emphasizes who creates and gets the process data, unlike a standard diagram, which organizes data in sequential order.

SIPOC tends to focus on how data is collected both internally and externally, resulting in it being utilized in activities related to customer experience.

sipoc

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Steps to Create a Workflow Diagram 

Alright, now that you know what a workflow diagram is and its various types, let's discuss how to create a workflow diagram in five-simple steps. 

1. Determine the Process and Workflow 

The first step in the workflow creation process is determining the type of process for which the workflow needs to be built.

Will multiple teams be involved in the complex process where a swimlane workflow is suitable? Or is it a simple, straightforward process where a process flow diagram would do the job? 

Only if you determine this can you create a successful workflow diagram. Don’t skip this step, thinking that you can improvise the diagram during the process; it is not a recommended practice. 

Decide the type of process and workflow upfront. Only then it’ll be easier for your team to understand it, which will result in a quicker delivery time. 

2. Collect Information 

Once you’ve determined the process and the workflow you’re going to use, the next step is to collect the necessary information needed to successfully implement the workflow process. 

You need to collect details about the following:

  • Requirements 
  • Resources 
  • Stakeholders 
  • Responsible individuals 

These are the four factors that’ll influence your workflow. You need to understand the requirements and assign tasks to the right individuals. A mistake here will bring up discrepancies during the time of project delivery. 

3. Decide the Start and End Points 

Once all the necessary information is collected, you need to specify where the process has to start and which step will conclude it.

For example, if you’re running an eCommerce store, the checkout process should start when the customer adds a product to their cart. 

Likewise, you need to choose the trigger that sets off your process and the step that terminates it. This will help your team plan their tasks accordingly and facilitate better collaboration. 

4. Design Your Workflow 

You’ve decided on the start and end points of your process. Now it's time to design the workflow.

Choose the right design that will fit your team effectively; do not stack a step with too many tasks. Split them into smaller tasks using a swimlane workflow design. 

Design your workflow using the data you collected from your team and stakeholders, and let them know about the flow of the process and responsibilities before finalizing the process. 

It is recommended to discuss the workflow with your team and make a collaborative decision while designing it. This will help you increase transparency and productivity. 

5. Optimize and Improve Your Workflow 

Once the design is done, you need to perform a final check by involving your stakeholders.

Identify the bottlenecks in your workflow. If you find inefficient steps, remove them from the process and improve them. Your workflow process should be streamlined without any discrepancies. 

Analyze the workflow to determine which process needs to be done manually and which processes can be automated using a process automation platform. 

Once you’ve analyzed your workflow diagram, share it with the team and let them know the individual responsibilities, then proceed with the process. 

That’s it!

This is how you can easily create a workflow diagram. 

Workflow Diagram Examples 

Let’s look at some examples of workflow diagrams to get an idea of how they work. 

eCommerce 

The most common eCommerce process workflow is the order confirmation process. The workflow starts after the customer adds a product to their cart. 

1. The customer adds a product to the cart.

 

2. Wait until the customer completes the payment.

  •  If Yes, it is moved to the next step
  •  If No, the order/process ends there.

3. Once the payment is received, the order is placed with the seller.

4. The seller sends the product, and it is delivered to the customer.

ecommerce

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Recruitment 

Recruitment is one of the most automated workflow processes. Multiple HRMS tools can help you with this. This is how the employee recruitment workflow goes:

  1. The candidate submits the application.

  2. Their CV is evaluated.
  • If the CV matches the requirement, the candidate moves on to the next step.
  • If the CV doesn’t match, the application is rejected.    

3. The interview is planned and scheduled.

 

4. The interview is ongoing.

  • If the candidate performs well, they are offered the job.
  • If the candidate performs poorly, they are rejected.

5. The workflow stops when the candidate receives the offer or if they are rejected in the interview process. 

Recuitment

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Final Thoughts

A workflow diagram is a visual representation of the steps involved in a business process. It shows the team what needs to be done in chronological order and who is responsible for the tasks. 

It makes it easier for teams to understand the business process than they would through documentation.

Workflow diagrams use multiple symbols to denote a specific action, so you can easily understand the process by just looking at them.

You might wonder, what do I use to create workflows? This is where tools like Hubbler come to the rescue.

Hubbler is a business process automation platform with a workflow builder and pre-built business workflows. You can easily create a workflow using Hubbler, and the best thing? You can automate those processes without breaking a sweat. 

Wondering about connectivity? Don’t worry; Hubbler can integrate easily with any of your existing tech stacks using custom API connectors. 

So, what are you waiting for? Use Hubbler to build your workflows and automate your processes

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