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What is a Workflow Diagram & How to Create One (Examples Included)

Written by: Jessie Strongitharm

Mar 13, 2023

workflow chart

Want to better understand and streamline your business processes? Look no further than workflow charts. 

These types of diagrams offer a visual representation of the steps involved in a workflow from start to finish, providing a clear overview of the entire process and highlighting areas that can be improved and optimized. And while getting started may seem daunting at first, with the right approach, you’ll be able to create effective workflow diagrams that can help you achieve your goals.

 So today, I’ll explore the basics of workflow charts, their benefits and the steps involved in creating them. Whether you’re looking to improve a current process or interested in starting a new project, this guide will provide you with the tools you need — including a ton of handy flowchart templates you can customize to your own liking too.


Click to jump ahead: 

What is a workflow chart / workflow diagram?

A workflow chart, also known as a (process) flowchart or process / workflow diagram, is a visual representation of a workflow — i.e. a business process requiring a series of steps and decision points involved to achieve a particular goal. 

These types of charts are used to illustrate the sequence of actions required to complete a task or a project. Here’s one example of a workflow chart template:

System Workflow Diagram Template

You’ll notice the above workflow chart uses different shapes for certain steps. That’s not just a stylistic choice! 

Workflow charts typically use standardized symbols to represent different elements of a process, such as decision points, actions, inputs and outputs. 

Arrows or lines are used to connect the different shapes, indicating the direction of the flow and the order in which the steps need to be performed. Read more about the different symbols used in flowcharts here.

That being said, you don’t *have* to limit yourself. Even if every step is represented with, say, a rectangle (as shown below), it still counts as a workflow chart — so long as the steps in a workflow are being described.

Simple Workflow Diagram Template

It’s easy to see how a workflow chart like the above can be customized to visualize any workflow or task. 

That’s why this kind of business process mapping is frequently used in a variety of industries and fields, such as software development, project management, manufacturing, saleshuman resources and more.

Wondering what the point of all this is, or curious about the benefits? 

Let me explain…

What is the purpose of a workflow diagram?

workflow chart

By visually representing the steps involved in a process or task, workflow charts help ensure tasks are completed efficiently and effectively. This is particularly important when it comes to…

  1. Planning and Design: Workflow charts are great for planning and designing processes before they’re put in motion. By mapping out each step and any potential decision points involved, thes charts allow you to create the most efficient workflow possible, and troubleshoot aspects that could be improved
  2. Communication: Workflow charts make it easy to communicate processes or tasks to others by offering a visual representation of the steps involved. This is particularly important for employee training, as it helps folks better understand not only what needs to be done, but when and how.
  3. Standardization: Workflow charts are often used to standardize processes across an organization. By providing a clear, consistent visual representation of a process, these charts ensure everyone is up to speed so that tasks are completed the same way every time. 
  4. Process Improvement: Workflow charts help identify areas for process improvement. With a glance, stakeholders can identify bottlenecks, inefficiencies, or areas where errors are likely to occur, and work to improve the process accordingly.

Now you might be thinking: that’s good and all, but I don’t want to spend hours creating one. 

No sweat! I’ll describe exactly how you can do just that.

Types of workflow diagrams & workflow diagram examples 

Process flowchart (process flow diagram) 

Project Workflow Chart Template

A process flow diagram (PFD) is a visual representation of a process or a system. It represents the flow of materials, information or other resources through various stages of a process or system. 

In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve already been talking about. 

Keep in mind that the contents of your business process diagram should be chosen based on:

  • The information you need to map (i.e. the steps, people, systems, data, inputs, outputs, decisions or actions involved)
  • The purpose of the diagram
  • The audience you’re communicating with

For example, the workflow chart below uses language that those familiar with data management systems will understand. 

Clinical Data Management Process Flowchart Template

Swimlane diagrams

Swimlane Activity Diagram Template

Swimlane diagrams — also known as process flow diagrams or cross-functional diagrams — are a type of workflow chart that divides the steps involved in a process into categories, or swimlanes. These categories represent the groups or individuals that perform each step in the process.

Unlike a simple flowchart, swimlane charts depicts who is in charge of each step. This means they’re great for highlighting the process steps and responsibilities assigned to different employees or departments, and seeing how everything works together.

You can see this represented in the swimlane diagram template below. 

Business Planning Swimlane Diagram Template for PowerPoint

This example shows how the payroll workflow is divided amongst various roles, and how those roles interact. It’s not hard to see why these diagrams are key for streamlining project management and onboarding, or illustrating internal workflows and documenting business processes.

Related: Swimlane Process Maps: How do They Work Together to Improve Business Processes?

Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) Chart

Business Process Modeling Notation, otherwise known as BPMN, is a workflow chart that models the steps of a business process.

Once again, BPMN visually depicts detailed sequences of business activities and information flows for a process to be complete — however these types of diagrams follow specific rules made by the Object Management Group. 

Suppliers Inputs Processes Outputs Customers (SIPOC) Chart

SIPOC Diagram Template

Suppliers Inputs Processes Outputs Customers (SIPOC) charts offer a visual overview of the key components of a business process or system. Specifically, they focus on the inputs and outputs of a process, as well as the stakeholders involved. 

In mapping out flows and identifying collaborators according to supplier, input, process, output and customer, these charts usually end up looking like a mix between a flowchart and a swim lane diagram. They’re most frequently used to map out manufacturing processes. 

Related: 7 Types of Flowcharts and How to Choose the Right One

How to make a workflow chart?

Now that you know the basics, you’re nearly ready to create workflow charts yourself. Below, I’ve outlined the process of making a workflow chart at a high level.

workflow chart
  1. Define the process or workflow: Start by defining the process or workflow that you want to chart. This could be a business process, a manufacturing process or any other process that involves a series of steps.
  2. Consider your audience and purpose: Ask yourself: who am I making this chart for, and why? These answers will guide you in determining the scope of your chart and the type of language (jargon) you use.
  3. Identify the key steps: Next, identify and outline the essential steps involved in the process, and any decision points that may branch off along the way. Stay focused on the ones that are essential for the workflow to be successfully completed.
  4. Determine the flow and any stakeholders: Discern the order in which the steps are carried out, and who is — or should be — involved.
  5. Create the chart: Use Venngage’s Diagram Maker and ready-made Smart templates to create your own workflow chart in minutes. (Psst: You’ll find the ins and outs of this process outlined below!). FYI, Smart templates speed up the design process so you can reflect the information you’d like to display in a clean, organized manner much faster. This makes it a breeze to add, modify or delete sections of the chart as needed.
  6. Review and revise: Review the chart to ensure it accurately represents the process. Make revisions as necessary to ensure it is clear and easy to understand.
  7. Share the chart: Once completed, share your chart with any stakeholders involved in the process. This will help everyone understand what happens and identify areas for improvement.
workflow chart

Workflow diagram use cases & workflow diagram templates

Looking for some examples of workflow charts

There are tons of ways you can use these handy diagrams to relay or revisit your business processes.

I’ve rounded up a few options and workflow examples below you can use as your starting point, no matter what your workflow looks like.

Workflow charts for software development

UAT Process Flow Diagram Template

When it comes to software development, coding and other tech tasks, workflow charts are a super helpful tool that can help developers organize their work and ensure each step is completed accurately and efficiently. 

The templates above and below are perfect for just that.

Website User Flow Diagram Template

Workflow charts for project management 

By providing a visual representation of the project workflow, workflow charts are an invaluable tool when it comes to project management.

Project Workflow Diagram Template

In addition to helping stakeholders understand and improve task sequences and how they relate to each other, these charts help project managers allocate resources more effectively — a vital aspect of proper project development.

These are just a few of the templates you can customize instantly for all your project management needs. Check out the diagram templates page for more.

Project Management Workflow Diagram Template

Workflow charts for sales

By mapping out the steps involved, workflow charts allow businesses to make data-driven decisions to optimize their sales process, resulting in increased productivity, reduced costs, and improved customer satisfaction.

Sales Flowchart Template

Workflow charts can also help sales teams stay on track by providing a visual representation of their progress and highlighting areas that require attention. This helps ensure that nothing falls through the cracks and enables sales teams to work more efficiently and effectively, so you can stay ahead of the competition.

Sales Funnel Flowchart Template

Related: How to Create a Sales Process Flowchart in 5 Steps

Workflow charts for human resources (HR)

Finally, workflow charts can help streamline complex human resources (HR) procedures, such as recruitment, employee onboarding, performance management and benefits enrollment. 

They can also help to standardize HR procedures, making them consistent and repeatable, reducing errors and improving the overall quality of HR processes.

Hiring Swimlane Workflow Template

Plus, workflow charts help professionals in these roles communicate more effectively with employees, as they provide a clear understanding of what is expected from them at each step. This leads to increased productivity, better decision-making, and ultimately a more efficient HR department.

Internal Recruitment Process Flowchart Template

Creating a workflow chart with Venngage

You don’t have to be a design whiz to produce a workflow chart that looks great and gets the job done. With Venngage’s Diagram Maker and extensive library of professionally-designed Smart templates, you can get started right away. 

Venngage workflow chart
  1. Start by signing up for a free Venngage account.
  2. Select a chart template that matches your use case.Click on the “Flowcharts” tab on Venngage’s template page to see a range of options you can choose from. Then, click the “Create” button on the template. 
  3.  Swap in your desired text, icons and colors to make it your own. Then, use the drag-and-drop editor to map out the process with symbols and directional cues. (Our diagram templates are “Smart” — meaning you can add, edit, delete or drag nodes, texts and icons around in one click, and the nodes will automatically adjust to match.)
  4. Once you’re happy with your design, share the link publicly for free or upgrade to a paid plan to download

Upgrading gives you the ability to download your flowchart as a PNG, PNG HD, PDF, Interactive PDF or PowerPoint file. And with a Business Plan, get access to other premium features like real-time Team Collaboration, and automated branding via My Brand Kit.

Workflow chart FAQ 

What are the four main flowchart types?

The four types of flowcharts are: 

  1. Process flowcharts
  2. Workflow charts
  3. Swimlane charts
  4. Data flowcharts

What are the three basic components of a workflow diagram?

The three basic components of a workflow diagram are:

  1. Activities/Steps: These are the individual tasks or steps that need to be completed as part of the workflow. Each step should be clearly defined and labeled.
  2. Decisions/Branching: These are points in the workflow where a decision needs to be made or where the workflow branches off into different paths. Each decision should be clearly labeled and the possible outcomes should be identified.
  3. Connectors/Arrows: These are the lines or arrows that connect the activities and decisions in the workflow diagram. They show the sequence of steps and the direction of flow in the workflow.

Gain valuable insights & increase organizational efficiency with workflow charts

Whether you want to help employees understand a new business process, improve operational efficiency or simply keep everyone on the same page, workflow charts are your key to representing and translating business processes into actionable steps.

And while creating workflow charts is a process in itself that can take up a lot of time, smart tools like Venngage’s Diagram Maker make mapping out your workflows easy, quick and intuitive as can be. So what are you waiting for? Start visualizing those workflows for free now and reap the benefits of a streamlined system tomorrow. 

About Jessie Strongitharm

Jessie Strongitharm is a Content Marketer & Writer at Venngage. A quick-witted wordsmith whose passions lie in strategic storytelling (see also: excessive alliteration), Jessie's background in psychology, new media communications and B2B SaaS marketing informs the copy she crafts for Venngage's audience.