What is a Business Flowchart?

A business flow chart is a kind of chart that product managers, especially Business product managers, often need to draw.

Business flow chart is a kind of sorting and summary of the business itself. Only by drawing a high-quality business flow chart can we understand the business process as a whole, and then find out the unreasonableness of the process and optimize and improve it.

But many product managers are not very clear about the specific meaning of business flow diagrams, nor how to draw them.

I guess there may be two reasons:

  1. They are not aware of the significance and importance of the business flow chart, and there is no mandatory requirement, so they are omitted if they can be omitted;
  2. They know the importance of business process diagrams, but because the theoretical knowledge of business process diagrams is too obscure and boring to understand, they can only draw them according to their own knowledge, which is not very reasonable.

So this article will try to put aside those boring theoretical knowledge, combined with examples to explain the knowledge related to business flow chart in detail, I hope it will be helpful to you!


What is a business flowchart

Without going into theory, let's look at a story: Bob Keebler opened a store in the community. At the beginning, he purchased products by himself, keep the store by himself, and settled the accounts by himself.

As the business got better and better,  Bob felt that he was too busy, so he asked his aunt to help the store to collect the bills, and hired a guy Jose to specialize in stocking; the aunt reported the account book to Bob every week , Bob decides the purchase situation next week according to the sales situation of the products, writes a purchase order, and then tells Jose to purchase according to the purchase order.

Suddenly one day, Bob had something to do at home and asked for a week's leave, so Bob had to purchase the products himself this week; Later, Bob felt that there was something wrong with the accounts, so he asked his mom to take charge of the money and let her take charge of the accounts. The two supervised each other.

The bigger the business is, the more the turnover needs to be taxed, so we need to deal with the tax bureau. Aunt and mom can't do it; So he specially recruited an accountant, Vanessa, to be responsible for tax declaration. 

In this way, Bob's store became bigger and bigger, and after a few years, the store became a comprehensive supermarket; in order to facilitate management and assistance, Bob set up corresponding departments according to their functions, such as finance department, purchasing department, Inventory department, marketing department, etc.; the number of employees has also increased. Bob no longer personally make purchase orders. Each category has a special person in charge to sort out, and Xiao Wang is only responsible for approval.

There are also specialized suppliers for each category. In order to control the quality, Bob stipulates that suppliers must provide the corresponding product quality certification before they can supply.

However, during a random inspection of products, Xiao Wang found that there was a problem with a certain supplier's products, so he found that Jose from the purchasing department took the benefits of the supplier and made him a supplier.

Bob was furious, and immediately removed all the products of the supplier, terminated the contract with the supplier, and fired Jose; he then stated in the company regulations that if any follow-up purchasing department personnel were found to have similar phenomena, they would be fired immediately and bear the loss. 

Sure enough, no similar incident happened in the follow-up, and the supermarket business became more and more prosperous under the leadership of Bob.

After the story is finished, we can analyze the above story. The story contains all the elements in the flow chart. Let’s look at them separately:


1. Role

In the beginning, when Bob was alone, he did everything by himself, no assistance was required, and no process was involved; but when the aunt, mon, Jose, and Vanessa were recruited, they had different roles and formed a division of labor.

This is the first basic element: the roles - usually swimlane diagrams are used to represent the different roles.

To put it simply, division of labor is a great progress in the history of human development; Performing their respective duties has brought about a great improvement in efficiency; In short, scale expansion (aunt and Jose), risk control (mon) and specialty (Vanessa) are the three reasons for the division of labor.


2. Activities

Auntie's keeping the store, keeping accounts, Bob's statistics on products sales, Jose's purchase of products, Vanessa's tax declaration, etc., are all specific things done by specific roles; this is the second basic element in the business flow chart: activities - Usually represented by a rectangle in a flowchart.


3. Collaboration

Every role needs to cooperate. Only when the aunt gives the account book to Bob, Bob can count the sales situation, and Jose can purchase products. This is the third basic element in the business flow chart: collaboration - that is the flow chart 's connecting line.

Collaborative relationships include parallel, sequential, asynchronous, and so on.


4. Deliverables

Aunt's account book, Bob's purchase order, Jose's tax return sheet, etc. are all specific deliverables, which are the deliverables in the business flow chart; It belongs to the four basic elements in a business process diagram, and is usually represented by documents or data flows.

5. Branches

Jose suddenly asks for leave, and Bob have to purchase products in person. This situation is the fifth basic element in the business flow chart: branch - in the flow chart, it generally refers to the branch that appears after judgment.


6. Exceptions

The buyer Jose collects the benefits of the supplier, so the supplier can become a supplier in violation of regulations. This event is the sixth element in the business flow chart: exception - the so-called exception means that there may always be some problems during the execution of the process. Accidents and exceptions cause the process to be unable to proceed in the normal order.

At this time, in terms of management, we need to make some records in advance to prepare for emergency needs; usually we can attach a text description, if it is too complicated, we can also draw a special exception flow chart.

Some people may have doubts, that is, "Exceptions" and "branchs" sound similar, what is the difference?

In fact, both belong to some situations outside the main process, but the difference is that the branch still belongs to the "normal" range, which is a branch process triggered according to different conditions or states; while the "abnormal" belongs to a more serious situation.


7. Approval

The staff shall be responsible for the statistics of product sales, the delivery and purchase orders, and submit them to Bob for approval; This event belongs to the seventh element in the business process diagram: approval.

Approval is easy to understand. Approval is usually represented by "activity" in business flow charts. Here is the key point: in drawing flow charts, there is an easy mistake, that is, approval often uses "post name + approval" It is unreasonable to name an approval activity, such as section chief approval, general manager approval, and we should name an approval activity with the approval content or approval intent, such as inventory approval, channel approval, budget approval, etc. 

Because the approvers may change, today the general manager approves, but it may become the section chief approval tomorrow; and the name of the approval content is relatively fixed.

8. Rules

There are many rules in the example. For example, only suppliers with product qualification certificates can supply products, and only the supply orders approved by Bob can purchase products by the purchasing department, and the financial department can settle accounts, etc.; this is the last element in the business process diagram: rules.

The rules are actually some specific restrictions in the business, which need to be clearly sorted out and reflected in the flow chart.

Rules can be divided into behavior rules and data rules:

  1. Behavior rules are the rules that each role needs to follow when they collaborate or perform activity steps. For example, "Only the supply order approved by Bob can the purchasing department purchase products, and the finance department can settle the bill."
  2. Data rules refer to rules that restrict some formats and contents of deliverables, such as "the amount on the purchase order should be rounded to two decimal places".

The above are the eight elements included in the business flow chart. The first five are the basic elements, namely: roles, activities, collaboration, deliverables, and branches; the last three are management elements, namely exceptions, approvals, and rules.

Any complete business process flow diagram will contain the above eight elements.


Re-understand the business flow chart

After knowing these eight elements, you can see our business flow chart with these elements. I believe you will understand a lot.

  • Start/end: an ellipse is used to mark the start or end of the flow. The flow chart has only one start, but can have multiple ends.
  • Process: a rectangle is used to represent the action or step to be performed by the role. Corresponds to the activity element.
  • Judgment: marked with a diamond, representing the judgment condition, with one input and two outputs. Usually in conjunction with the "branch" element.
  • Process line: A straight line with an arrow represents the process execution steps or data direction, and is used to illustrate the "cooperative relationship" between roles.
  • Documents and data: Documents and data often appear as deliverables of execution.
  • Note: Generally used for explanation, it can be used to explain the general process, or it can explain the "rule" element.
  • Sub-process: When individual activities are too complex, "sub-processes" can be used for further disassembly.


Related Reading

How to Draw a Business Flowchart?

Business product prototyping Tips

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