Quality Capsule 10 - Flow Diagram - Suresh Lulla


In Quality Capsule 9 we solved the mystery of the vanishing linen. What was the key tool the team used? Without a doubt, flow diagram.

The reality is that we all know how to construct a flow diagram. At least, to some degree. We know it is not rocket science.

In summary, a flow diagram is a graphic representation of the sequence of steps, in a process, needed to produce some output – product, service, document.

Further, a flow diagram provides a quality improvement team with a common understanding of the process that enables the team to identify potential problems, bottle necks, unnecessary steps, and rework loops.

Analysing a Flow Diagram

Quality Capsule 10 - Analyzing a Flow Diagram - Suresh Lulla

Potential Pitfalls

While interpreting and analysing a flow diagram, we assume that the flow diagram reflects the actual process in our work environment. Usually, this is not the case.

The failure to document the actual process is a key pitfall that must be avoided. Here are a few potential causes:

  • The designers of the original process are drawing the flow diagram to represent the process they designed. Not the process that has evolved.
  • The managers on the team resist drawing parts of the actual process that are obviously illogical. They fear that they might be called to explain why they allowed it to happen.
  • Rework is assumed to be small and inevitable. So the rework loops are not documented by the team.


I recommend that the team constructing the flow diagram must have persons with detailed knowledge of the process being studied. Segment by segment.


A flow diagram can be a great facilitation tool. Do you agree? If yes, how?


In my next edu-blog, on Wednesday 16 September, I will introduce a right-brain tool, Brainstorming.


  • Yes…it’s a great tool.
    It’s easy to understand the complete steps involved in the process and perfect for all levels

  • A very lucid illustration of one of the most powerful Quality Tools. The discipline required for mapping an existing process is sadly missing in several work-places, whereas the pay-off is huge.

  • Absolutely Mr Lulla. One of my favourite quality tools!
    One of the biggest pitfalls is that it is not used very effectively in problem solving. Everyone thinks it is just a tool to understand the process.
    It requires patience on the part of the Facilitator to get the team to come up with a good “As is” process flow diagram.
    I remember our team coming up with a huge reduction in cycle time (48 hrs to 6 hrs) just using the flow diagram. We only needed to move the sequence of certain activities from series to parallel!
    Flow diagrams also indicate how complex the process is or has become.

    • Yes Ashok. You are absolutely right.

      Flow Diagram is the only quality tool that is required at every step of Quality Improvement / Problem Solving.

      Flow Diagrams can be effectively used to facilitate cross-functional project teams during disagreements.

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