What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (2024)

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What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (1)What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (2)

Team Asana

February 13th, 2024


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What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (3)

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A flowchart is the perfect way to visualize a complex process for your team. There are over 30 standardized symbols you can use to create a flowchart. These symbols can indicate anything from a process to a document or decisions that need to be made. In this article, you’ll learn what the different shapes mean, when a flowchart can be useful, and what types of flowcharts you can implement at work.

A flowchart is a diagram that illustrates the steps, sequences, and decisions of a process or workflow. While there are many different types of flowcharts, a basic flowchart is the simplest form of a process map. It’s a powerful tool that can be used in multiple fields for planning, visualizing, documenting, and improving processes.

The industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth first introduced this tool to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1921. Since then, flowcharts have been refined and standardized to optimize processes across various industries.

If you want to learn more about the variety of different types of flowcharts and flowchart symbols, you’ve come to the right place. We’re also going to cover how you can create flowchart diagrams and provide a few examples for inspiration.

Download a flowchart infographic

When to use flowcharts

Flowcharts can be helpful in a variety of scenarios, including when you need to:

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (4)

1. Document a process

A flowchart is a wonderful way to map out and document a collaborative project or process.

2. Visualize complex ideas or processes

Not everyone on your team will have the time (or resources) to read through a complicated and lengthy process document. A flowchart allows everyone to follow the workflow, understand the tasks, and analyze the individual steps quickly and easily.

Read: What are workflows? 7 simple steps to get started

3. Organize your team and assign tasks

Visually representing a process can make it easier for you to assign tasks to team members and organize your team’s work so it all flows better.

4. Make and justify decisions

Decisions often look way less intimidating and complicated when they’re mapped out in a flowchart. A flowchart can also help you see the consequences of your decisions, which makes it easier to anticipate and justify next steps.

5. Identify and prevent bottlenecks

Flowcharts help you uncover bottlenecks or problems before they become issues. By mapping out the entire process with this visual guide, you can follow each step and ensure that you allocate enough time and resources to every task.

Read: If you like maximizing team impact, you’ll love resource allocation

6. Standardize processes

Once your flowchart is done, you can reuse it for similar projects and processes. This can save you and your team time—and stress—in the long run.

7. Track the progressof a project

Since it’s so easy to follow the steps in your flowchart, you can always pinpoint where your team is currently at in the project or process. This makes tracking progress very easy and also gives you a great overview of the tasks that still need to be completed.

Read: 4 types of concept maps (with free templates)

Flowchart symbols and definitions

Flowcharts vary from quickly hand-drawn visualizations to help document or plan a process to comprehensive workflow diagrams created with a designated software. To make it easier for you to understand flowcharts across teams, departments, and even industries, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) set official standards in the 1960s which were adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in 1970 and are continuously updated and improved. The latest version of this standard was confirmed in 2019.

When reading a flowchart, follow the Western standard, meaning you’ll read it from the top to the bottom and from the left to the right. Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly used flowchart symbols, their names, and meaning.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (5)

  • Flowline: The flowline shows the process’s direction by connecting two blocks with one another.

  • Termina or Terminator: The terminal or terminator represents the start or end points of a flowchart process.

  • Process: The process symbol is the most common component of a flowchart and indicates a step in the process.

  • Comment or Annotation: You can indicate additional information about a step with a comment or annotation.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (6)

  • Decision: This symbol represents a decision you or your team need to make to get to the next step of the process. Typically, it’s a true or false decision or a yes or no question that you need to answer.

  • Stored data: This symbolizes a data file or database.

  • “Or” symbol: This indicates that the process flow continues in three or more branches.

  • Input/Output: The input/output symbol represents the process of in- or outputting external data.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (7)

  • Display: This indicates a step that displays relevant information.

  • Document: This symbol represents a single document.

  • Delay: This symbol allows you to plan and represent any delay periods that will be part of the process.

  • Manual input: This symbol represents data or information that needs to be manually entered into a system.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (8)

  • Manual operation: This symbolizes a manual operation or adjustment to the process.

  • Off-page connector: This symbol is used to connect two symbols that are of different pages.

  • On-page connector: This dot can connect two symbols and replace long lines which allows for a cleaner flowchart.

  • Summoning junction symbol: This symbol is used to converge multiple branches back into a single process.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (9)

  • Alternate process: The lines to this symbol are usually dotted. The symbol itself stands for an alternative to the normal process step in case one is needed.

  • Predefined process: This symbol indicates a process that is already defined elsewhere.

  • Multiple documents: This symbolizes multiple documents.

  • Preparation or initialization: This symbol indicates a preparation or initialization step in the process.

Once you’ve learned what the symbols represent you can read—or create—pretty much any type of flowchart and gain a better understanding of the visualized process. When you create a flowchart that needs different shapes or symbols, include a legend so it’s still accessible to your teammates.

Types of flowcharts

Because flowcharts are such a powerful tool, they’re used across many fields and industries. Whether it’s in education, sales and marketing, business, engineering, or manufacturing, flowcharts can be found virtually anywhere.

Depending on the type of process you’re aiming to visualize, you’ll want to use a different type of flowchart. According to Mark A. Fryman and his 2002 book Quality and Process Improvement, there are five types of flowcharts from a business perspective:

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (10)

  • A decision flowchart helps to explain steps that are taken to justify a decision. This type of flowchart can be helpful in anticipating the consequences of different decisions.

  • A logic flowchart is applied to uncover loopholes, bottlenecks, or constraints in the process which could cause disruptions or issues.

  • A system flowchart represents how data flows in a system. They’re often used in the accounting world.

  • A product flowchart visualizes the product creation process and order of sequences. This type of flowchart can be a helpful piece of documentation when you’re launching a new product or improving the production process.

  • A process flowchart displays how a process will achieve a certain outcome. You will likely create a process flowchart to improve an existing process or establish a new one. An example for a process flowchart is a swimlane diagram.

Besides the types of flowcharts that Fryman defined for business purposes, there are many other types that were developed over the years.

Read: What is the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle?

Commonly used flowcharts

Some of the most widely used types of flowcharts were coined by Alan B. Sterneckert in his 2003 book Critical Incident Management and include:

  • Document flowchart

  • Data flowchart

  • System flowchart

  • Program flowchart

In 1987, Andrew Veronis published a book called Microprocessors: Design and Application that described the following three types of flowcharts:

  • System flowchart

  • General flowchart

  • Detailed flowchart

Other commonly used flowchart types include:

  • PERT chart

  • Workflow flowchart

  • Swimlane diagram

  • Data Flow Diagram (DFD)

  • Process Flow Diagram (PFD)

  • Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN 2.0)

  • Specification and Description Language Flowchart (SDL)

  • Event-Driven Process Chain Flowchart (EPC)

You can find a process document flowchart in our article on process documentation and check out PERT charts for another common flowchart example.

Read: Incident management: How to create a plan (plus 7 best practices)

How to make a flowchart

Whether you scribble down a flowchart in your notebook or you use a flowchart template to map out an official process, there are five steps you should follow to create a sensible and helpful flowchart.

What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (11)

Download a flowchart infographic

  1. Define the purpose and scope. Before you hit the drawing board or open your flowchart maker, define your project scope and process purpose. Ask yourself what your project should accomplish and what appropriate beginning and end dates are.

  2. Put your tasks in chronological order. Depending on the kind of flowchart you’re creating, you may want to review existing documentation, interview team members on their past experiences, or observe an existing process. It can help to write down some of the steps as a list before you create your first flowchart draft.

  3. Organize your tasks by type and flowchart symbol. Once you have all of your tasks written out and organized chronologically, assign them to their corresponding symbol so you’re prepared to draw your flowchart.

  4. Draw your flowchart. You can sketch it out by hand or use a flowchart maker or flowchart software to create a flowchart that you can easily share with your team.

  5. Confirm and refine your flowchart. Getting a second, third, or even fourth set of eyes on your flowchart will help you uncover bottlenecks or potential problems and allow you to refine the flowchart before the process starts.

Download a flowchart infographic

Use flowchart templates to maximize your productivity

A flowchart is supposed to make your life easier, so utilize computer programs or app integrations like Lucidchart to create them. The Lucidchart + Asana integration seamlessly embeds diagrams, flowcharts, and process maps into your Asana project. Choose from thousands of templates to create all the flowcharts you need.

Download a flowchart infographic

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What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana (2024)


What is a Flowchart? Symbols and Types Explained [2024] • Asana? ›

Flowline: The flowline shows the process's direction by connecting two blocks with one another. Termina or Terminator: The terminal or terminator represents the start or end points of a flowchart process. Process: The process symbol is the most common component of a flowchart and indicates a step in the process.

What is a flowchart and explain flowchart symbols? ›

A flowchart is a type of diagram that represents a workflow or process. A flowchart can also be defined as a diagrammatic representation of an algorithm, a step-by-step approach to solving a task. A simple flowchart representing a process for dealing with a non-functioning lamp.

What are the 5 shapes of a flowchart and what do they mean? ›

The oval, rectangle, diamond, parallelogram and arrow are the basic process flowchart symbols. The oval represents the start and end. The rectangle represents any step in the process, like tasks or actions.

What are the 4 types of flowcharts? ›

While the variations and versions of flowcharts are endless, four flowchart types are particularly popular and very versatile — the process flowchart, the workflow chart, the swimlane flowchart, and the data flowchart.

What is a flowchart simple definition? ›

A flowchart is a diagram that depicts a process, system or computer algorithm. They are widely used in multiple fields to document, study, plan, improve and communicate often complex processes in clear, easy-to-understand diagrams.

What is a flowchart short answer? ›

A flowchart is a diagram depicting a process, a system or a computer algorithm. It is a diagrammatic representation of the solution to a given problem but, more importantly, it provides a breakdown of the essential steps to solving the problem.

How to read a flowchart? ›

Flow charts tend to consist of four main symbols, linked with arrows that show the direction of flow:
  1. Elongated circles, which signify the start or end of a process.
  2. Rectangles, which show instructions or actions.
  3. Diamonds, which highlight where you must make a decision.
  4. Parallelograms, which show input and output.

What are the rules of flowcharts? ›

Flowchart rules to start following

Run your return lines under your flowchart, ensuring they don't overlap. Maintain consistent spacing between symbols. Use the correct symbol for each step (diamond shapes are for decisions, rectangles are for processes, and start/end shapes should be the same, etc.)

What do the arrows indicate in a flowchart? ›

In flowcharting, an arrow from one process step to the next is often called a "Connector", a "Flow Line", or simply an "Arrow". As the names indicate, they show the direction of process flow.

What are the 3 basic structures of flowchart? ›

The flow charts of the three basic programming structures (sequence, decision, repetition) in their general form and visualization of the decision structure flowchart (Page 1 of the microworld) This paper presents a novel didactical approach of the decision structure for novice programmers.

What does a broken line in a flowchart mean? ›

Just like flowchart symbols, flowlines also have standardization. A regular line denotes data or process flows from one shape to another. A dashed line represents alternate paths or an alternate process.

What does a diamond mean in a flowchart? ›

Rectangles represent a task, action, or operation. Diamonds are used to designate a decision point or question that affects the flow. A rectangle with a wave on the bottom indicates a physical document is produced at that point in the flow.

What is the difference between flow chart and flow diagram? ›

Key differences

Data flow diagrams operate at a higher level of abstraction, emphasizing the movement and transformation of data. In contrast, flowcharts offer a more detailed view, encompassing the entire process flow, including decision points, actions, and dependencies.

What is a flowchart in computer? ›

Flowchart is a graphical representation of an algorithm. Programmers often use it as a program-planning tool to solve a problem. It makes use of symbols which are connected among them to indicate the flow of information and processing. The process of drawing a flowchart for an algorithm is known as “flowcharting”.

What are flowcharts used for? ›

Flowcharts are typically used to help people understand, communicate or improve upon a process or system. They're ideal for documenting the steps in a process so they can be repeated accurately.

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