What is the Difference Between Workflow and Process Flowchart?

Laura Parker
May 2024

Optimizing operations is key to staying competitive. One common area of confusion is understanding the difference between workflows and process flowcharts. While both are essential tools for improving efficiency, they serve different purposes and offer distinct benefits. In this article, we’ll delve into the specifics of each, explore various types of process flow diagrams, and provide practical examples to help you master these concepts. By leveraging the right workflow software, you can streamline your operations, reduce errors, and enhance productivity. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the field, this guide will clarify these critical elements of business process management, shedding light on the debate of workflow vs process.

What is the Difference Between Workflow and Process Flowchart?

What is the difference between workflow and process flowchart

At first glance, workflows and process flowcharts might seem similar, but they serve distinct functions in business process management. 

  • Workflow: Represents a series of tasks that need to be completed to achieve a specific goal, emphasizing the flow of work and how tasks move from one stage to the next. It is more about the operational side of getting tasks done and often includes decision points and various paths that tasks might take.
  • Process flowchart: A visual representation of the steps involved in a process, providing a detailed map of each step in a sequence. This tool is crucial for understanding and analyzing how a process works, identifying bottlenecks, and ensuring every step is clearly defined.

For instance, imagine a workflow for approving a document. The workflow might include steps like drafting, reviewing, revising, and finally approving the document, with each task assigned to specific team members. A process flowchart for the same process would detail each of these steps visually, showing how they interconnect, often with symbols representing different types of actions or decisions.

Understanding the difference between workflow and process flowcharts helps businesses streamline operations, reduce errors, and improve overall efficiency by ensuring the right tasks are performed in the right order by the right people.

What are the 3 types of process flow diagram

A process flow diagram (PFD) is a crucial tool in business process management, offering a visual representation of the steps involved in a process. There are three primary types of process flow diagrams that each serve specific purposes:

  • Basic Flowchart: The most common type, a basic flowchart, illustrates the steps of a process in a sequential order. It uses simple shapes like rectangles (for tasks), diamonds (for decisions), and arrows (to show the flow of tasks). This type of PFD is ideal for mapping out straightforward processes and identifying potential areas for improvement.
  • Swimlane Diagram: A swimlane diagram adds more detail by dividing the flowchart into lanes, each representing a different person, department, or team responsible for each part of the process. This helps clarify roles and responsibilities, making it easier to see who is accountable for each step and how tasks move across different parts of the organization.
  • Data Flow Diagram: Unlike the previous two, a data flow diagram (DFD) focuses on how data moves through a system rather than the sequence of tasks. It shows the inputs, outputs, storage points, and pathways of data, making it an essential tool for understanding the flow of information within a process. DFDs are particularly useful in system design and analysis.

By understanding and utilizing these three types of process flow diagrams, businesses can gain a clearer picture of their processes, identify inefficiencies, and make informed decisions to enhance productivity and efficiency.

What do you mean by workflow

In the context of business process management, understanding the distinction between workflow vs flowchart is essential. 

  • Workflow: Refers to a series of tasks that are carried out in a specific sequence to complete a business process. It encompasses the entire path that tasks follow from initiation to completion, including the roles involved, the decision points, and the various pathways tasks may take.
  • Flowchart: A graphical representation of a process, detailing each step in a visual format. While a flowchart can illustrate the steps within a workflow, it does not encompass the dynamic elements such as roles, responsibilities, and conditional paths that are integral to a workflow.

For example, consider a customer support process. The workflow might involve steps like receiving a customer query, categorizing the issue, assigning it to the appropriate team, resolving the issue, and then following up with the customer. This workflow includes various decision points and different paths based on the nature of the customer query.

A flowchart for the same process would visually map out these steps, showing how each action leads to the next, but without detailing the roles and conditional pathways.

By differentiating workflow vs flowchart, businesses can better design, manage, and optimize their processes to ensure efficiency and clarity in task execution.

What is an example of a workflow

To understand workflows better, let’s look at a simple workflow process template for handling customer feedback. This template outlines a straightforward series of steps that ensure customer feedback is systematically reviewed and addressed.

  • Receive Feedback: Customer feedback is collected via email, surveys, or feedback forms.
  • Categorize Feedback: The feedback is categorized into different types, such as product issues, service complaints, or general suggestions.
  • Assign to Relevant Team: Each type of feedback is assigned to the relevant team or department responsible for addressing it.
  • Analyze Feedback: The assigned team analyzes the feedback to understand the root cause and identify potential solutions.
  • Implement Solution: Based on the analysis, the team implements the necessary changes or solutions.
  • Follow Up with Customer: After implementing the solution, the team follows up with the customer to ensure their issue is resolved and to gather additional feedback if needed.
  • Document the Process: All steps and outcomes are documented for future reference and process improvement.

This simple workflow process template helps streamline the feedback handling process, ensuring that no feedback is overlooked and that every issue is addressed promptly and efficiently. By following such a template, businesses can enhance their customer service and continuously improve their products and services.

What is the Difference Between Workflow and Process Flowchart?

How do you write a workflow process

Creating effective workflow processes and procedures involves a systematic approach to ensure clarity and efficiency. 

Here are the key steps to writing a workflow process:

  • Identify the Objective: Clearly define the purpose of the workflow. Understand what you aim to achieve and the outcomes you expect.
  • List the Tasks: Break down the entire process into individual tasks. Each task should be a specific action that contributes to the overall objective.
  • Assign Roles and Responsibilities: Determine who will be responsible for each task. Assign roles clearly to ensure accountability.
  • Set the Sequence of Tasks: Arrange the tasks in the order they need to be performed. Consider dependencies between tasks and ensure the sequence is logical.
  • Establish Decision Points: Identify points in the workflow where decisions need to be made. Define the criteria for these decisions and the possible outcomes.
  • Create Visual Documentation: Use beSlick to visually map out the workflow. This platform allows you to create detailed flowcharts that help in understanding the process at a glance and ensures all steps are covered.
  • Test the Workflow: Run through the workflow in beSlick to identify any issues or inefficiencies. Gather feedback from those involved in the process.
  • Refine and Implement: Make necessary adjustments based on the testing phase. Once refined, implement the workflow in beSlick and ensure all team members are trained on it.
  • Monitor and Review: Continuously monitor the workflow within beSlick to ensure it remains effective. Regularly review and update it as needed to adapt to any changes in the business environment.

By following these steps and utilizing workflow software like beSlick, businesses can develop robust workflow processes and procedures that enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and ensure consistent outcomes.

How to create a workflow diagram

Creating a workflow diagram is an essential step in visualizing and improving your business processes. 

Here are the steps to create a workflow diagram, with examples to illustrate each step:

  • Define the Scope: Clearly outline the process you want to visualize. Identify the start and end points, and the key steps involved. For example, let’s consider a customer onboarding process.
  • List the Steps: Break down the process into individual steps. In our example, the steps might include initial contact, needs assessment, proposal, contract signing, and onboarding.
  • Identify Roles and Responsibilities: Assign each step to a specific role or department. This ensures accountability and clarity on who is responsible for each task. For instance, the sales team handles the initial contact and needs assessment, while the onboarding team manages the onboarding process.
  • Create Visual Elements: Use shapes and symbols to represent different actions and decision points. Common symbols include rectangles for tasks, diamonds for decisions, and arrows to indicate the flow of the process.
  • Connect the Steps: Arrange the visual elements in the correct sequence and connect them with arrows to show the flow of tasks. Ensure the diagram accurately reflects the order of steps and any decision points where the process may branch.
  • Use beSlick’s Template Library: Utilize beSlick’s extensive library of workflow templates. These templates provide a starting point for various processes, allowing you to customize and adapt them to your specific needs. This feature helps streamline the creation process and ensures best practices are followed.
  • Review and Refine: Share the workflow diagram with relevant stakeholders for feedback. Make necessary adjustments to ensure accuracy and completeness. For example, review the diagram with both the sales and onboarding teams to ensure all steps are correctly represented.

Workflow diagram examples can vary widely depending on the complexity and nature of the process. A simple workflow might involve just a few steps, such as a basic approval process. More complex workflows, like a product development cycle, might include numerous tasks, decision points, and roles.

By following these steps and utilizing beSlick’s template library for workflow diagram examples, businesses can create clear and effective visual representations of their processes, leading to improved understanding, communication, and efficiency.

Streamline Your Business with Effective Workflow Management

In conclusion, understanding the difference between workflows and process flowcharts is crucial for optimizing your business operations. Workflows focus on the sequence and execution of tasks, while process flowcharts provide a visual representation of each step in a process. By leveraging both tools, you can enhance efficiency, reduce errors, and ensure tasks are completed in the correct order by the appropriate personnel.

Utilizing platforms like beSlick allows you to create detailed workflows and process diagrams, benefiting from features like customizable templates and visual documentation. This comprehensive approach helps businesses stay agile, improve productivity, and deliver better service to customers.

Ready to enhance your workflow management? Explore how beSlick can transform your processes and bring your business to the next level. Visit our workflow software page and learn more about the difference between workflow and process to get started today.

Need a better way to track team tasks & workflow?
Need a better way to track team tasks & workflow?

, Author of The Dirty Word and CEO at beSlick

Alister Esam is a successful entrepreneur and investor, having bootstrapped his fintech software business eShare to international status operating in over 40 countries and servicing 20,000 board directors, before successfully exiting to a multibillion-dollar organisation in 2018. He now invests in a variety of startups and on a global mission to make work, work.