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Entering a new business means many complicated processes and steps are in store for you. That great amount of information might give you a hard time when you try to learn about the business. In that case, a workflow diagram will be of great help to you.

This article will show you its definition and provide a complete guide to properly using it.

What Is A Workflow Diagram?


Workflow is the sequence of processes that a business has to go through from starting point to completion.

A workflow diagram is a type of flowchart that serves as visual representation that shows you the workflow of your business. It is usually in the form of a flow chart. Using standard symbols, this method helps you understand each step more thoroughly. 

Hiring Process Flowchart
A Simple Hiring Flowchart

The main advantage of this method lies in visualization. By visualizing every process, it will let you know more about each task included in the whole complicated business and who is in charge of them. 

Moreover, it can show you the order in which the tasks are completed, pointing out how they interact with each other. Knowing the relationship between the steps will help you predict the potential problems and get rid of them before damaging the workflow. 

That way, your business will become much easier to manage and have a higher chance to succeed.


A diagram is commonly composed of three components: input, transformations, and output.

Input is the needed sources to complete the tasks such as information, actions, materials, email. We will take selling products online as an example. The needed thing to complete this task is the products and the customers’ orders.

Transformation is the component that produces the changes needed to achieve the final result. It can be a location change, a physical characteristic change, an ownership change. In the above example, the transformation happens when the customer confirms the payment. 

Output is the final result of the whole business. When you sell your products, the output will change depending on the transformation. If the customer makes the payment, the output will be the item’s delivery to the customer. In case you receive no payment, then the process will stop at that point.

Workflow Diagram History

The idea of this diagram appeared in the late 1880s. Until 1921, the term “workflow” was first present. With the growing field of optimization theory, World War II, and the Apollo program, there was an increasing demand for the rational organization of work. 

At that time, the idea of total quality management was widely welcomed, resulting in many companies’ globally expanding their market. That also helps create a flourishing time for “workflow”.

The two people who came up with this amazing method are Henry Gantt, a talented mechanical engineer, and the management science specialist Frederick Winslow Taylor. 

Intending to create something to help sequence and prioritize work, Henry Gantt developed the diagram. Later, he worked with Winslow Taylor to apply the tool to business use. Together, they created the Gantt diagram, which we are still using today.

Where Can We Use Workflow Diagrams?

In Process Improvement

As we mentioned above, this tool breaks down the complicated business into small and simple steps, giving you a better understanding of it. You can also detect flaws and find room for improvement using the tool.

In Tracking Processes

With the help of modern technology, the function of this amazing tool does not stop at analyzing the process. It can help you stay updated with deadlines, re-assigning tasks, and role transfers. 

In Combating Shadow IT And Tribal Knowledge

Shadow IT refers to all the devices, platforms, and technologies the team members use without explicit approval. Without the knowledge of IT, this kind of use contains a lot of potential security risks.

Thanks to the diagram, you can choose one suitable platform to carry out all the processes. That way, your department will work on that platform only, and the risks from unauthorized platforms will be removed.

Types Of Workflow Diagram

There are many types of workflow diagrams, but the ones below are the most commonly used.

ANSI Flowchart

This flowchart uses symbols from the American National Standards Institute (hence the name ANSI). It then became the standard for this type of diagram and provided a universal language to describe the steps involved.

UML Activity

Unified Modeling Language, or UML Activity, represents steps, processes, and the flow of control in a flowchart.


Similar to UML Activity, BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) also operates like a flowchart. It focuses on showing you the steps included in the business process and information more than the output. 

bpmn workflow diagram
BPMN Workflow Diagram


This type of flowchart places the steps in a horizontal or vertical “swim lane”. Unlike the BPMN, this one highlights the interaction between units in the organization and exposes bottlenecks and inefficiencies.

swimlane workflow diagram


Standing for Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer, SIPOC is mainly applied in Six SIGMA, showing the data’s creator and the receiver.

How To Create A Workflow Diagram?

Tools and techniques

Before getting to know the steps, it is indispensable to prepare the necessary tools and the standardized symbols first.

You can start this in three ways, with three different tools:

Pen And Paper

This is the simplest way; simply grab a pen and write down whatever you got in your mind.

Flowchart Software

This tool is specifically used for developing a diagram. By doing it online, you can easily store and share your flowchart, which saves you the scanning step compared to the first way.

Workflow Management Software

This software is comparable to the flowchart, except for some extra functions. It can automate some steps, keep you updated with the workflow, and detect flaws.

Keep in mind the symbols below to properly create a correct flowchart on your own.

Flowchart Symbols
Flowchart Symbols

Steps to Create a Workflow Diagram

Select The Process

This is the step where you find out the purpose of the diagram. Depending on your need and the people who use it, the suitable diagram will differ. 

For example, if you are aiming at non-technical users, BPMN will be a decent start. We have already provided the list of commonly used charts for you to choose from.

Define The Inputs And Outputs

Input and output are the fundamental components. Having clear beginning and endpoints will help you design more smoothly.

Collect Information

This step involves getting information from members in the department to make sure you get every step right. You need to gather the exact task and the person who will execute it, the process timelines, and find potential bottlenecks.

Design The Workflow

After getting all the ideas and information needed, you can finally visualize the process. Choose one from the three tools above to design your ideal diagram.

Analyze And Improve

The last step is to take a final look at your work. Identify the remaining flaws, unnecessary details and get rid of them to optimize your business.