The details that dictate the flow of activities within an organization can often be complex and multifaceted. It is here, in the quest for simplification and understanding, where process maps and flowcharts emerge as critical tools. Both instruments are designed to distill complex procedures into comprehensible, visual diagrams, enabling stakeholders across all levels to grasp the nuances of operational workflows.

Make your own flowchart with Gleek.

Process maps and flowcharts, while serving the shared purpose of enhancing process visibility, accommodate to slightly different needs and audiences within the business landscape. Each tool embodies a unique approach to process visualization, offering varying degrees of detail and perspectives on the operational sequences they represent. This nuanced difference is not merely academic but has practical implications on their efficacy in addressing specific challenges faced by organizations.

This article aims to clarify the differences between process maps and flowcharts and show how they can be practically applied. Our goal is to make it clear how and when to use each tool effectively, helping businesses improve operations, enhance communication, and achieve greater efficiency.

What is a Process Map and a Flowchart?

Before we can compare and contrast, let's first define what each term means in business process management.

A Process Map is a comprehensive blueprint of a business process from beginning to end. It thoroughly details every step, action, and decision point encountered along the way, providing an overarching view of the process in its entirety. This type of map goes beyond mere sequences, incorporating a variety of information, including who is responsible for each task, the standards governing each phase, and the metrics used to measure success at various points. Process maps are instrumental in identifying redundancies, bottlenecks, and opportunities for streamlining operations. They serve as a foundational tool for process analysis, redesign, and continuous improvement initiatives, enabling organizations to achieve higher efficiency and effectiveness in their operations.

Read our guide on How to create process maps.

On the flip side, a Flowchart presents a more streamlined approach to visualizing a process. Employing a set of universally recognized symbols and arrows, flowcharts concisely depict how each step in a process leads to the next. Their simplicity is their strength, offering an accessible and easily understandable representation of processes that can quickly communicate procedural steps and sequences to a broad audience. While they may lack the depth of detail found in process maps, flowcharts excel in providing clear and immediate insights into the flow and basic structure of a process. This makes them particularly useful for troubleshooting, training, and high-level process overview purposes where the primary goal is to grasp the fundamental sequence of actions without becoming entangled in the details.

Check out our collection of 20 editable flowchart templates & examples.

Are flowcharts and process charts the same?

It is a common misconception to think of flow charts and process charts as identical tools within business process management, but while they are related, they are not the same.

A flow chart is essentially a type of process chart, but not all process charts are flow charts.
The term "process chart" can be seen as an umbrella term that encompasses various types of diagrams used to articulate different aspects of processes. This includes flow charts, but also extends to other formats such as SIPOC diagrams (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customers), swim lane diagrams, and value stream maps.

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Flow charts specifically focus on the sequence of actions or steps in a process, using a series of boxes or symbols connected with arrows to depict the flow from one step to another. This simplicity and focus on sequence and decision points make flow charts a subset of process charts that are particularly useful for illustrating simple processes or for educational purposes where clarity of sequence is crucial.

Read also: How to create a concept map in Microsoft Word.

In contrast, other types of process charts like swim lane diagrams provide a more detailed view that can include multiple parallel sequences that occur across different departments or roles, reflecting the complexity of interdepartmental interactions within an organization. Similarly, value stream maps are used in lean manufacturing to show the flow of materials and information as a product makes its way through the production line, including time and resources used at each step.

This distinction in purpose and detail level brings us to a critical understanding: not all diagrams are created equal, nor do they serve the same function. As we dive deeper into the specific attributes of process maps and flowcharts, we'll explore how each tool is suited to different aspects of process visualization and management.

Differences Between Process Maps and Flowcharts

When we talk about bringing processes to life visually, both process maps and flowcharts jump into the picture. Yet, they serve different purposes and offer varying levels of insight into the operations they represent.

Starting with the level of detail, process maps are like deep dives into the ocean, where every fish, coral, and sea creature is noted. They not only show you where to swim but also who's swimming nearby, who’s responsible for cleaning which corals, and when it’s time to surface or dive deeper. Flowcharts, in contrast, are more like a map of the coastline. They give you a good idea of how to get from the beach to your chosen destination, marking out the major landmarks along the way, but they won’t tell you much about what’s happening under the sea.

Check out a Flowchart example on 7 stages of the product development process.

In terms of application, think of process maps as the go-to for when you need to really understand and improve the health of the entire marine ecosystem. They're perfect when you’ve got a complex process that needs dissecting, understanding each component's role, and how they interlink. Flowcharts, on the other hand, are your quick guide. They're incredibly handy for simpler journeys that don't require a deep understanding of the underlying mechanisms. They're the kind of map you’d use for a straightforward task or to get someone up to speed quickly without overwhelming them with details.

Make your own flowchart with Gleek.

When we consider visibility into how different parts of a process interact, again, process maps shine by showing the interconnected nature of tasks and departments, much like an aerial view of the ocean revealing the vast network of currents and how they affect each other. They make it clear how the marketing department’s actions might affect sales, for instance, or how procurement’s timelines impact production. Flowcharts are more focused on getting from point A to B. They lay out a path forward but tend to skip over the nuances of departmental interactions, similar to following a river downstream without knowing about the tributaries feeding into it along the way.

What's the best app for creating process maps and flowcharts

Process maps and flowcharts serve a specific purpose, catering to different needs within an organization’s process visualization efforts. Process maps offer a comprehensive view, ideal for deep dives into complex systems, facilitating detailed analysis and continuous improvement. On the other hand, flowcharts provide a clear and concise way to depict the steps in a process, making them invaluable for quick comprehension and effective communication of simpler processes.

Related post: A step-by-step guide to creating a flowchart in Google Docs.

To truly leverage the benefits of flowcharts in your business process management, consider utilizing tools that streamline and simplify the creation of these visual aids. The Gleek app, with its intuitive interface and robust features, is an excellent resource for crafting clear and professional flowcharts. Whether you're looking to quickly sketch a basic workflow or need a detailed diagram, Gleek's extensive template gallery offers a wide array of options to jumpstart your process visualization efforts. Incorporating flowcharts created via Gleek into your operational processes can enhance understanding, improve communication, and drive your organization towards greater operational excellence.

Start enhancing your process management today by exploring Gleek, creating your first flowchart, and discovering the possibilities within our comprehensive template gallery.


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