How to Create a Workflow Diagram and Clarify Your Business Processes
Visual representations make it much easier to understand complicated things at a glance and that's why the workflow diagram is such an amazing tool to capture, share, and improve your business processes.
Workflow diagrams are simple to create, understand, and share while having the ability to contain tons of information.
What is a Workflow Diagram?
A workflow diagram is a visual representation of all the steps within a business process from start to finish. It shows the chronological flow of tasks and actions between people or teams that is necessary to finalize the process.
Tasks and actions are often represented by boxes, diamonds, or oval bubbles within the workflow diagram and are connected with each other through arrows that indicate in which order tasks should be performed.
Workflow diagrams often serve to give a birdseye view of a business process.
3 Workflow Diagram Examples
You can create a business workflow diagram for every possible process within your business. To give you a variety of workflow diagram examples, we created a sample workflow diagram for a customer support process, a sales process, and a logistics process below.
Before we dive into the examples, let's get clear on what the different most commonly used symbols of a workflow diagram mean.
Workflow diagram symbols explained
Although a lot of workflow diagram tools allow you to use the different available shapes to your liking, there are a few standardized symbols.
Oval shapes indicated the start and finish of a process.
Rectangles represent an action to be taken.
Diamonds illustrate decision-making moments. Usually, these take the form of a "yes or no" question. The answer will determine how to continue through the diagram.
Arrows are connectors that indicate chronology by connecting one step with the next step.
Circles are used to indicate you can skip a few steps.
Customer Support Workflow Diagram
The example above illustrates the process flow that takes place when a customer submits a support ticket:
- The customer submits the ticket.
- The ticket is created in the customer support backend and assigned to a customer support officer.
- The customer support officer reviews the ticket. How fast this happens depends on the urgency of the ticket.
- When reviewing the ticket, the customer support officer needs to decide whether they can solve the issue, or whether further investigation is needed.
- If they can solve the issue, they will do so, after which the ticket is closed.
- If they can't immediately solve the issue, the ticket will be forwarded to the engineering team.
- Once the engineering team has fixed the issue, the ticket is sent back to the customer support team who communicates the fix with the customer and closes the ticket.
Outbound Sales Workflow Diagram
This sales workflow diagram sample shows the process flow that starts when a prospect contacts the company or is cold-called by the company.
- The prospect enters in contact with the company or is cold-called.
- During that contact moment, the company qualifies the lead.
- Next, the company schedules a sales call with the lead.
- The sales call is a decisive moment: if the lead signs up, they're passed on to their account manager; if they say no, they're entered into the company's marketing drip campaign.
Logistics Workflow Diagram
Our last example represents the logistic workflow that takes place when a customer places an order.
- When a new customer places an order, the logistics department needs to check if the requested product is available. This is a decisive moment.
- If the product isn't available, an automated reply gets sent to the customer to let them know.
- If the product is available, the order is passed on to the logistic manager.
- They then delegate the preparation of the order to the local storage facility ...
- … who takes care of the order preparation …
- … and ships the order to the customer.
- The process is finalized when the customer receives their order.
How to Create a Workflow Diagram
Step 1: Decide which process you'll visualize
When creating a workflow diagram, it's essential to work on just one business process at a time to not end up with an overly complicated visualization. This will also make it easier to later use your workflow diagram as the basis for running tests to improve your business process.
Step 2: Textually outline the process by gathering information
Now that you know which process you'll create a workflow diagram for, it's important to collect all the information related to that process. That includes writing down:
- all of the tasks that constitute the process.
- the order in which these tasks are being performed.
- the resources needed to perform these tasks.
- who is responsible for completing these tasks.
- who is responsible for signing off on tasks.
- who makes decisions throughout this process.
Writing all of this down makes it easier to create a visual representation of the workflow as now you just need to transform what you already have on paper.
Step 3: Draw the diagram (... on paper first)
If you're not used to working with workflow diagram tools or feel more comfortable creating with pen and paper, you can always manually diagram a workflow first. That way, recreating it in your workflow diagram tool of choice becomes a matter of really just selecting shapes and creating connections.
Note that some of these workflow diagram tools also have the ability to add links and attachments to the different steps within your workflow. It's a great way to, for example, link tools and documentation to the different stages of your business process.
Step 4: Share the diagram with team members
Once you've created your workflow diagram, share it with your team members to make sure everyone understands the different steps and actions required to successfully execute that business process.
Sharing the diagram will also help people understand their role in the bigger picture. This is especially beneficial when you're mapping out processes that span multiple departments.
Lastly, getting extra eyes on the process may lead to extra insights on things that could be improved upon.
Step 5: Track, analyze, and improve
With every step of a business process documented, it becomes much easier to spot bottlenecks and other potential problem areas, but also who the key players within the process are.
Analyze which tasks are absolutely necessary, which could be discarded or streamlined, and which could be automated. We'll talk a bit more about automation at the end of this post. For now, just keep in mind that simply because a task needs to be performed, it doesn't mean your team should actively be performing it.
Top tip: Create a workflow diagram template based on the original template for each of your business's processes. That way, you always have a solid base to work from when you're adapting existing processes or developing new ones. By using a template, you can keep all of your previous workflow diagrams as historical records you can go back to when needed.
Best Workflow Diagram Tools
Lucidchart is an online workflow diagram tool that works with a (rather limited) free plan and a paid version. It comes with a lot of functionality as well as more than 1,000 diagram templates as well as the option to start designing from a blank page. The wide range of things you can do with Lucidchart means that there is a bit of a learning curve, but overall, Lucidchart is pretty easy to use.
Want to use Lucidchart with your team? It integrates with a wide range of other commonly used tools such as Slack, Google Drive, and Jive, allows for real-time team collaboration, and is one of few web-based diagram tools that can be exported to Microsoft Visio.
Gliffy is a super simple drag-and-drop online workflow diagram builder that comes with hundreds of templates It also integrates with many other apps, such as Wordpress, Jira, and Confluence. It's perfect for those who instantly want to get started and offers plans for both individual users and teams.
Gliffy does have a very basic free plan but if you use that, all of your diagrams are public. Not recommended if you're creating business processes in there.
Draw.io is an open-source workflow diagram tool that has an easy-to-use interface. It comes with a dark theme option, which is pretty cool. Another bonus when using Draw.io is that you can create and store diagrams offline. In comparison with Lucidchart and Gliffy Diagram, the number of symbols and templates included is a bit limited.
Then again, Draw.io is free to use online and it integrates with tools such as Google Drive, Confluence, and Jira.
Top Tip: Automate Your Workflows
Workflow diagrams make it easy to share business processes with your team and make sure everyone's on the same page. They don't actively do something for you, though. It's still up to you and your team to make sure each step in your workflow is executed efficiently and without any error.
That's not always easy. Things get hectic. You might forget a step because you're rushing from one task to the other, or because you're spending hours on menial tasks that unfortunately do need to get done.
This is where automation can help. With Gmelius, you can create workflow automation using simple "if this, then that" triggers. That includes:
- auto-assigning tasks.
- sending auto-replies to common emails.
- automatically getting notified when an email has gone too long without a reply.
And much more.
Sounds good? Click on and learn how Gmelius can help you automate your team’s workflows within Gmail and G Suite.