What is process flow? Plus, how you can visualize it

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January 18th, 2024
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A process flow diagram is a way to visualize each subsequent task you and your team need to complete to hit a goal. While they were originally designed for industrial engineering, process flowcharts have become an integral tool for business project management. In this article, learn how to depict process flows with diagrams or flowcharts that help you streamline, analyze, and improve your processes.

Are you looking for a way to improve the process of getting work done? Revisiting your process flow may be the solution. 

A process flow is a series of steps you and your team go through to achieve your goal. Visualizing your process flows can help you uncover redundancies, repetitive tasks, and bottlenecks.

You can visualize process flows using timelines or workflow diagrams. Learn more about the origin of process flows, what process flow diagrams are, and how to use them to improve your team’s efficiency. 

What is process flow?

A process flow is a way to visualize each subsequent step that your team goes through when working toward a goal. By visualizing these steps in a diagram or flowchart, everyone can easily understand what order they have to complete tasks.

Improving processes is critical for getting higher-impact work done, faster. Today, knowledge workers miss over 25% of their deadlines each week—and unclear processes are a top contributing factor. By clarifying who’s doing what by when, you can empower your team to understand the context of their work and execute their tasks more effectively.


Process flow example

Regardless of your job description, there’s one simple process flow that everyone is familiar with: requesting time off. This process is pretty linear and a great example of how you can visualize a subsequent order of tasks:

Example process flow
  • Step 1: Request your paid time off (PTO).

  • Step 2: Your manager reviews your request.

  • Step 3: Your manager decides whether or not they will approve your request.

  • Step 4: You’ll receive an email about your manager’s decision.

  • Step 5: Your request is either approved or denied.

Ideally, process flows like the one above are accessible to everyone. That way, your team knows where to find process flows for all kinds of workflows, and can reference that information when they’re working on new or unfamiliar processes.  

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

What is a process flow used for?

Process flows are more than handy charts. They’re an incredibly helpful tool in project management that you can use to analyze, optimize, and standardize new and everyday processes. 

Here are four ways in which process flows can positively impact how you run your business:

What is a process flow used for?

Plan and document processes

Unclear processes lead to disengaged team members, low morale, and tasks that fall through the cracks. Instead, mapping out your process gives your team a better understanding of how your business processes flow. If your team members have questions about who they should reach out to or what happens next in the project, they can refer to a central source of truth they can rely on.

  • For example: Rather than having your team track their progress in different places, map your process out in one central location. Use a work management software to streamline your team’s tasks and progress.

Standardize processes

Process flowcharts are a great tool to standardize or streamline processes. Instead of reinventing the wheel every time you start a new project or wasting time crafting a new process flow, your team can reference the standardized process flow and stick to it. This prevents your team from missing tasks or taking unnecessary risks.

  • For example: Like the PTO request example earlier, creating a diagram or flowchart that explains a standardized process will make it a lot easier for your team to understand what’s happening. When they see the big picture, they’ll likely feel more valued and less stressed out about the process.

Analyze processes for optimization

When mapping out your process flow, you may realize that there are redundancies or repetitive tasks that you can omit. You may also uncover process risks that you can communicate to your team so they’re aware of them. This will improve both the efficiency and effectiveness of your processes.

  • For example: Let’s say upon reviewing a new process flow, a stakeholder notices that you could skip a step in the communication process. You may be able to shave valuable time off your timeline by omitting this step and optimizing your process flow.

Increase your team’s accountability

When everyone on your team knows exactly what their tasks are and when they’re due, your process can flow without disturbances. A good process flow diagram also gives team members a clear view of any important project dependencies, resource constraints, or due dates they need to account for.

  • For example: If you're creating an article for your blog without a process flow, you may find that you’re running into roadblocks. Perhaps your team is unable to get work done on time or they often experience miscommunication issues. If you clearly define and visualize the process, everyone knows when it’s their turn and who to contact if assets are missing.

Read: Understanding kaizen: A guide to continuous improvement in business

Process flowcharts are typically used to map out simple processes. 

What is a process flow diagram (PFD)?

A process flow diagram is one way of visualizing your process flow. Depending on the type of process flow you’re depicting, you may call them top-down flowcharts, schematic flow diagrams, or process flowcharts.

Where did the process flow diagram come from?

The process flow diagram (PFD) was first introduced by Frank Gilbreth, Sr., an industrial engineer and efficiency expert. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) adopted the concept in the 1920s. 

Today, process flows are still used in chemical and process engineering but are also popular tools in manufacturing and business (where they’re often called business process flow, or BPF).

To visualize your process flow, you can use a series of symbols and notations that define and detail every task. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) created the most commonly known PFD symbols. Although some businesses use their own symbols, using standardized symbols makes it a lot easier for everyone to follow your process flowchart without further instructions.


If you’re curious about the different types of flowcharts and kinds of symbols, read our article on flowchart types, symbols, and how to read them

5 steps to document business process flow

You can create business process flowcharts or workflow diagrams in five simple steps:

How to document business process flow
  • Step 1: Select your type of diagram. Depending on the complexity of your process you can create a simple process flow diagram or pick a more complex visualization like the swimlane diagram.

  • Step 2: Determine your start and end points. Indicate what actions trigger the beginning and end of your process so you can effectively communicate these stages with teammates or stakeholders.

  • Step 3: Gather necessary information. Connect with your team and stakeholders to gather details and approvals needed to create your diagram. Find out what kind of deliverables are associated with each step so you can scope the time your team needs to complete their tasks.

  • Step 4: Eliminate inefficiencies. Analyze your diagram to uncover any redundancies or repetitive tasks that may slow your team down or cause bottlenecks

  • Step 5: Design your diagram. Now you can design your business process or workflow diagram. Map them out in the type of diagram you chose in step one and then review it with your team and stakeholders to ensure everything is accurate. 

Read: Workflow diagram: Symbols, uses, and examples

Optimize your process flow with Asana

Whether you want to streamline a simple process or a cross-functional, complex one—with Asana, you’ll always keep track of what’s up next. 

Check out our workflow solutions and hit the ground running with templates designed to make your life easier.




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