What is a Workflow Diagram

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What is a Workflow Diagram?

Visualization is essential if you want to understand how your business is working. It makes your business processes transparent, which in turn makes understanding and analyzing the Workflow easy. In this article, we will see how you can make your business workflow easier and effective with Workflow Diagram.

So what is Workflow Diagram?

Well, a workflow defines the way people get their work done, the processes, and techniques used in order so that the whole job completes within the stipulated time. Thus one can define a Workflow Diagram as follows:

A typical Workflow Diagram

Image Source: wikimedia.org


“A Workflow Diagram is a visual representation of the said workflow, or business processes and activities such as movement or transfer of data, documents, and tasks throughout the whole campaign and is illustrated with the help of a flowchart.”


Evolution of the Workflow Diagram

The term workflow got coined in a railway engineering journal in 1921. However, one can trace the origins of the modern-day Workflow Diagrams to the late 1880s. Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Gantt were the first to study the coherent organization of labor in the manufacturing industry.

Two events, namely the rapid growth in the field of optimization theory and the World War II & the Apollo Program, are said to be the major contributors to the need for a rational organization of labor. The concept of total quality management came into the field after that and became very popular in the 1980s.


Why is Workflow Important?

Workflow is handy for streamlining as well as automating various repeatable business activities which minimizes errors along the process, thus increasing the overall efficiency of your business models. There are numerous other benefits like:

  • With a well-mapped workflow you can gain a greater insight into your business processes;
  • A workflow can help you detect and eliminate various redundancies or unnecessary tasks thereby increasing your business efficiency;
  • A well-mapped workflow makes it easier for your employees and staff to know what they have to do, thus reducing micromanagement, which has often cited as the biggest reasons for quitting a job;
  • Visibility of activities and accountability increase with a good workflow, which in turn contributes to improved communication in the workplace;
  • Last but not least, a well-mapped workflow can significantly improve your product or service quality by eliminating human errors that, in turn, helps your business to provide better customer service.


Types of Workflow Diagrams

1.  ANSI Flowchart

The very first standard for workflows was taken from the American National Standards Institute and as such, called the ANSI Flowchart. This type of Workflow Chart supplies a common language while describing the different activities (or steps) involved.

ANSI Flowchart Sample

Image Source: gstatic.com


2.  UML Activity

Another type of Workflow Charts designed using the Unified Modeling Language or UML. This diagram can graphically represent the various steps involved in your overall business process and define its flow of control.


Image Source: geeksforgeeks.org


3.  BPMN

It stands for Business Process Modeling Notation and uses a flowchart very similar to the one in UML Activities. However, a BPMN serves as a common language for both technical and business personnel. Rather than focusing on output, a BPMN focuses mainly on the various internal processes and information.

A BPMN workflow chart

Image Source: gstatic.com


4.  Swimlane

In this type of Workflow Chart, each of the units within an organization separates, and their interactions get highlighted. It can provide a sophisticated visualization of possible inefficiencies within the groups as well as the overall process.

A typical Swimlane Diagram

Image Source: gstatic.com



The acronym SIPOC stands for Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer. It outlines the whole process in a very concise and accurate manner by clearly stating who creates and who receives the data. Thus, SIPOC can effectively outline all the top processes involved.

A basic SIPOC Diagram

Image Source: gstatic.com


What are the Components of Workflow?

In a workflow, each of the elements or components involved can illustrate the flow of work between each step. A well-designed workflow consists of three primary parameters:

  • Input: Refers to the resources and materials required to complete each stage, such as labor, capital, equipment or essential information.
  • Transformation: Transformation involves a specific set of rules that guides the changes brought about to the inputs to gain the output. These changes can relate to change in their location and physical characteristics, even ownership as well.
  • Output: is the result of the transformation of the inputs provided. In most cases, the production is the input for the next step, except for the final step.

These parameters guide the following four main components of a workflow:

  • Actors: Man and machinery responsible for completing the steps.
  • Activities: These are the tasks performed by the actors to make the overall process come to fruition. Actors are coupled with activities, is a Task.
  • Results: These are the desired outcomes of each of the steps. Thus output may differ from the result.
  • Sate: It is the condition of a project between two processes directed by the workflow.


Basic Symbols of Workflow Diagram

Every Workflow Diagram has five basic shapes or symbols that explain the various steps and processes illustrated in the diagram. These symbols each have distinctive applications.



Examples of Workflow Diagram

Here we will take two real-life Workflow Diagram examples:

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing can become hectic at times, but with a well-mapped Workflow Chart, it can become effortless.

  • The writer creates a draft of the content to be written and sends it to the editor;
  • The editor will either approve the material posted to him/her and pass it onto the designer or will send it back to the writer instructing him/her to fix the flaws in the content;
  • The editor also creates the proper visual resources as per the writer instructions and sends it to the marketer;
  • The marketer then uploads the finished article on a CMS of choice; for example, WordPress, optimizes it for the search engines and shares it among influencers, etc. to complete the whole process.
Content Management Process Workflow Diagram

Image Source: tallyfy.com


2. IT Security Threat

A Workflow Diagram can be beneficial to avoid cyber threats even before they emerge:

  • Incident reported by any individual employee or the cyber-security team;
  • The danger then gets evaluated. If it is a false alarm, the workflow will end. However, if it is real, an emergency email is sent to the management or the cyber-security head;
  • An emergency response meeting scheduled and held with the necessary staffs;
  • A solution proposed and applied to the situation;
  • If the solution is feasible, then the threat is dealt with, and the Workflow ends. If not, the workflow goes back to the emergency response meeting for evaluating a new solution.
A typical IT threat processing Workflow Diagram

Image Source: tallyfy.com


How to Create a Workflow Diagram with EdrawMax Online?

Creating a Workflow Diagram with EdrawMax Online is very simple. EdrawMax Online is an online diagramming tool with various diagram templates. An easy to use interface adds to its appeal to the users.

Before we go on to the step-by-step guide for creating a Workflow Diagram, you need to consider a few things.

First, understanding the underlying concepts of a Workflow Diagram, approach, and what processes you need to include in the specific project(s) for which you are drawing it.

Secondly, you need to familiarize yourself with the interface. You need to know what templates to use and where to find them as well as the various symbols you will need to use.

Step 1:  On your browser open the official site of EdrawMax Online

Step 2:  Login with your credentials

Step 2


Step 3:  Now, select the ‘Workflow Diagram’ option

Step 3


Step 4:  When the new window opens, drag and drop symbols you need at the left of the drawing canvas onto it

Step 5:  Double click on the shapes to add the functions they represent per your project

Step 6:  Resize these shapes as you need by dragging the green-colored handles

Step 7:  Use floating arrows at the sides of each shape to connect each step to its successive one

Step 8:  You can change the style & direction of the arrows by right-clicking on them and selecting the ‘Convert to Right-Angle (Curved/Straight) Connector’ option

Step 9:  Save your work directly into the Google Cloud or on a printed copy


Tips on Making a Good Workflow Diagram

  • Try to use the standard design elements, like shapes and symbols. However, you may use unconventional ones when there is a call for it
  • Try to keep all the items in one page to avoid confusion while interpreting it
  • Always flow data from left to the right; that has always been the norm
  • When you are at a decision-making junction in your diagram, try to use accessible symbols. Although conventional rules say to use diamond in such cases, many don’t know the significance of this symbol.
  • Do not forget to place return lines whenever and wherever applicable.


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