When looking around your workplace, does everything flow? Team members complete tasks without bottlenecks or redundancies, issues rarely escalate, and nothing stands in the way of getting work done?

Well, you might be dreaming.

In the imperfect world of project management, managers will do everything it takes to improve workflows. But many attempts at keeping organizations productive and efficient suffer from poor process mapping and slowdowns that affect output.

If your workflows are working against you, it might be time to create strategic process flow documents.

What’s process flow?

Within project management, process flow is the exercise of visualizing every step your team executes when working toward a goal or completing project work. Whether a single task or an entire workflow, a process visualization helps you work out kinks and optimize your efforts.

Assessing a workflow is all about visuals. Whether evaluating a product development process or accounts payable procedures, you’ll break these workflows into clear, easy-to-understand visuals diagramming each step. And a strong process flow analysis uses various tools to examine project work, like:

  • Flowcharts, or flow diagrams, that visually correlate steps using symbols like boxes, arrows, and text
  • Swimlane diagrams that define steps and responsible team members
  • Data flow diagrams that focus solely on data flows, outputs, and subprocesses
  • Process maps, which are highly detailed charts that outline timelines and task details

Whether you use a flowchart, diagram, or swimlane chart, the end goal is the same: to create a process flowchart that strategically optimizes your workflows.

What are process flow documents useful for?

You can create process flow documents for nearly every workflow, but you might find them especially useful when outlining:

  • Communication cadences
  • Manufacturing procedures
  • Filing guidelines
  • Client communication rules
  • Onboarding processes
  • Product development procedures
  • A specific project process
  • A specific task process

Why is process flow documentation important?

Beyond creating pretty charts, the documentation process has several valuable benefits, like helping you:

  • Process-map team tasks: If teammates have different process rules in various places, it causes inconsistencies, miscommunication, and delays. Process documents clearly outline how every employee must action a task, and you can house these documents somewhere central to create a single source of truth for your team. This mitigates several — potentially misaligned — interpretations of how to complete work. And the entire team gains visibility into efficient and strategic workflows.
  • Standardize processes: Use these documents as reference points for future procedures. Instead of starting over each time on similar projects, you can point to these approved docs, saving your team time. This is especially useful for basic working procedures, like requesting time off, escalating issues, or opening a help desk ticket.
  • Optimize procedures: When you lay out task or project steps in a diagram, it's much easier to see what you do and don't need. This helps root out redundancies and repetitive action items. And during document creation, you might even reveal some risks (aside from inefficiency.) You can then remove unnecessary steps and address threats to optimize the process.
  • Effectively manage resources: Creating and auditing these documents helps you determine required resources. Perhaps a particular task doesn't require two separate employee interactions, or maybe you suddenly see a way to consolidate server time. Capacity management is a beast in itself, and most project managers welcome any increase in resource visibility.
  • Encourage accountability: When you know you’ve clearly defined processes and made these documents visible to teammates, they’re accountable for following guidelines and performing efficiently — or at least as efficiently as the workflow allows.

How to document a process flow: 6 steps

Creating a process flowchart is one of the most interactive parts of project management. It requires team input and plenty of brainstorming.

Regardless of the type of visualization you settle on (generally dependent on process complexity), here’s a standard six-step guide for building process flow documents.

1. Choose the process

While it may seem obvious, you’ll likely evaluate and define several processes. It’s best to start with the most minor, building to the more extensive procedures. Often, simpler workflows contribute to broader ones, so refine the former first to create a solid foundation for more complex operations.

2. Define the scope

Now, place boundaries on the process, like a start, end, and ancillary tasks swept up in the middle. If documenting a client communication process, you might define the following:

  • Starting task/trigger: A client sends an email inquiry.
  • Middle task: A customer support agent sends a response.
  • Middle task: If the client responds, the support agent continues communicating with this client until issue closure.
  • Middle task: If the client doesn’t respond, the support agent sends a follow-up email checking in after one week.
  • Closing task: The client sends a closing email accepting your response and ending this communication loop.

3. Explain the process’s import

With a general idea of the process and before diving into the details, consider why this process exists — what purpose does it serve? Answering this question helps you ferret out repetitive workflows with the same purpose. If this is a duplicate, evaluate both to determine which is most efficient and focus on that one.

4. Determine resources and deliverables

Consider the resources and data that flow into your process, as well as why. For instance, your manufacturing process may require materials and labor, resulting in a finished product (and, by proxy, profitability). It's much easier to streamline a process once you fully understand what it requires of the business and what you gain in return.

5. Organize the structure

Begin to assemble the puzzle, considering your resources (financial, physical, technological), deliverables, and the process’s purpose to construct a clear picture of its totality. You can create this with a flowchart, perhaps using boxes to define action items, arrows to show task succession and direction, and circles that branch off each box to explain necessary resources, responsibilities, and intended outcomes.

6. Share it with the team

Once complete, audit this document with your team, gaining and implementing their feedback. If you illuminated process inefficiencies and threats, address these before finalizing it. Then, share the completed chart in a central team workspace everyone can access. Review these documents regularly to determine whether you can optimize processes further.

Streamline your organization's processes with Roadmunk by Tempo

One of the best ways to get a head start on your process flow documentation is already having your projects and ideas in a handy roadmap. Roadmunk by Tempo helps you create and maintain audience-friendly roadmaps that outline all your projects. And to optimize your time while defining processes, Timesheets by Tempo is an efficient time-tracking tool.