Project Management

Work Flow Diagramming

last edited by: Suzi MS on Nov 29, 2019 7:16 PM login/register to edit this page

1 Applications
2 Procedures
3 Instructions
4 Example
5 Tools
6 References

A graphic technique used to document how activities are performed. As such, work flow diagrams show how an enterprise organizes work. These diagrams can be created at various levels of detail to meet specific project objectives. For example, work flow diagramming can assist a team to understand and scope a process for redesign at a contextual level (see Context Analysis), or can assist a reengineering team to specify detailed work steps in order to perform an analysis of cycle time (see Cycle Time Analysis).

Work flow diagrams are created to document the current and the proposed reengineered set of activities being analyzed. Using standard symbology, the impacts of the "before" and "after" images can be quite powerful. Such standards enhance project team communication and aid in the development of other project deliverables (see Dependency Diagramming). Work flow diagrams are typically attached to activity profiles to provide a complete picture of the situation (see Activity Profiling).

Many tools are available to document and assist in the analysis and automation of work flow. At the start of any enterprise change project, it is important to select the tools appropriate to the task and standardize around tool and/or organizational requirements. For example, an IDEF-oriented organization would expect work flows to be documented according to IDEF standards. The work flow diagram shown in Figure 1 represents one possible standard for work flow diagramming, where activities are depicted using rounded "cushions," decisions are depicted as diamonds, external objects are depicted as double boxes, events are depicted as large arrows and the interaction flows are depicted as a single line with a directional arrow placed in the middle of the flow line.

Figure 2 displays similar conventions. Connectors are often required to document large work flows. A small circle is used to connect various diagrams. In addition, organizations (or individuals), performing activities and/or making decisions, can be depicted by structuring the work flow with organizations shown vertically (or horizontally—as depicted in Figure 2) and placing each activity/decision adjacent to the organizational row or column. Input and output boundaries can also be highlighted, as required, to enhance the overall appearance of the diagram. Cycle time, cost, and delay information can also be captured and displayed on the work flow diagram if appropriate.


  • To document the flow of work through an enterprise to meet a set of customer satisfiers and/or to meet a set of activity objectives and outputs.
  • To provide an understanding of how work actually gets performed, documenting time, cost, and other considerations of adding value.
  • To document "before" and "after" (or "as is" and "to be") images of the work flow.
  • To facilitate the identification of breakthrough opportunities.


  1. Confirm scope of the diagram to be drawn, the level of detail to be included, and the standards to be used.
  2. Review activity profiles and other source material.
  3. Document all activities and the flows between them, in sequence from left to right.
  4. Include all relevant decision points, tracing all possible outcomes.
  5. Identify key events and document in sequence.
  6. Add external objects, as required, to embellish the emerging diagram.
  7. For every activity, include a name and, if not provided elsewhere, document a brief description.
  8. Label every flow, event, and decision.
  9. Use connectors and/or other symbology to connect large diagrams and to embellish key points such as delays or to indicate value added.
  10. For every activity and decision, identify the organization (or person) performing or responsible.
  11. Add additional information, as required, (e.g., supporting systems, locations performed, time, control parameters, costs, etc.).
  12. Append to the activity profiles.
  13. Capture the information in an appropriate tool (if available).


Work flow diagrams can be drawn for entire value streams, sets of activities, or for a single activity. Confirm scope, identifying beginning and ending boundaries (e.g., for a value stream, the scope includes all activities required to produce customer satisfaction.) (See Customer Satisfier Analysis and Customer Value Stream Interaction Analysis.) For redesign projects, review context diagrams, as a starting point. Confirm the level of detail to be specified. Review and select diagramming conventions and/or standards to be used.

Review activity profiles, customer value stream interaction matrices, and other material (e.g., interview notes), as required, to familiarize the project team. Begin drawing the work flow, from left to right, documenting all activities and decisions. Trace the flow of events, deliverables, hand-offs, and other information and/or material flows between each activity, decision, and event.

Label all activities, flows, decisions, and events. Include additional descriptive information, if needed. Add externals (e.g., other activities outside the scope of analysis, business objects, customers, suppliers, etc.), connectors, and other standard symbols to capture the essence of the work flow (e.g., delays, locations, etc.). Identify the organizations involved in the activity or in the decision. Add input and output process boundaries, as needed. Document any additional dependencies, triggers, and/or pre- and post-conditions.

Strive for consistency throughout the diagram, taking care to balance the documentation. Try not to overload the diagram. Too much clutter on the diagram may create confusion and may limit the effectiveness of the final product. However, it is important to document how the work is performed currently in order to properly compare the proposed work flow after reengineering. Confirm the objectives and the level of detail required at the start. For complex flows, use Organizational Interaction Diagramming to simplify the "before" and "after" images for presentations.

Check for proper sequencing, identify recursive activities, and highlight opportunities for streamlining (e.g., very often, decision paths can be restructured for efficient work flow and greater empowerment). Use an automated tool to document the final product and/or to perform subsequent analyses (e.g., Cycle Time Analysis). Confirm the work flow with knowledgeable representatives. Review large, complex flow diagrams in chunks. Update as required. Append the final work flows to the activity profiles.

As an option, columnar work flow diagrams, also known as swim lane diagrams, can be constructed to explicitly highlight which activities and decisions are performed by distinct organizations and/or individuals (see Figure 2). It is useful for cross-functional activities, where indication of responsibility for each activity is important in understanding how the set of activities can be reengineered.


Value Stream Workflow Diagram
Value Stream Workflow Diagram


With the latest technological developments, there are a lot of applications/tools available in the market which helps in making efficient workflow diagrams viz. - ConceptDraw, SmartDraw, eDraw, Microsoft Visio, Gliffy, Creately, JIRA etc.


  1. XEROX, Corporate Quality Office. Quality Network Technical Update. Flowcharting Business Processes. February 8, 1991.
  2. Dr. H.J. Harrington. Business Process Improvement The Breakthrough Strategy for Total Quality, Productivity, and Competitiveness. McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1991.
  3. How to Use Workflow Diagrams in Your Business Analysis Report. Kupe Kupersmith, Paul Mulvey, Kate McGoey.

last edited by: Suzi MS on Nov 29, 2019 7:16 PM login/register to edit this page

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