Guide to understanding workflow diagrams

What is a workflow diagram?

Workflow diagrams visually represent a business process, project, or job. They show the various tasks and steps needed to complete the process from start to finish. Workflow diagrams are a type of flowchart designed specifically for business processes and workflows.

Workflow diagrams are linear and chronological, helping you see the steps for a process in the correct order, featuring specific symbols and shapes to further define what is needed for each step. Common elements of a workflow diagram include:

  • Lines and arrows to connect different shapes and actions and lead you through the workflow.
  • Diamonds to represent key decision points.
  • Circles to represent a jump in actions and/or a place to skip over certain steps in some situations.
  • Rectangles to represent actions or steps.
  • Ovals to represent the start and end points of the process.

Knowing these symbols and shapes is essential to reading and understanding a workflow diagram, following the path, and reaching the correct endpoint.

Lines and arrows Connect different shapes and actions and lead you through the workflow.
Diamonds Represent key decision points.
Circles Represent a jump in actions and/or a place to skip over certain steps in some situations.
Rectangles Represent actions or steps.
Ovals Represent start and end points of the process.

Types of workflow diagrams

There are a few different types of workflow diagrams to choose from when you need to create a visualization of a process. Each option is unique, with different ideal use cases. Review the five most common types of workflow diagrams below to decide which type is the best fit for your needs.

UML activity diagrams

Unified Modeling Language—UML—is a modeling language in the field of software engineering. Software developers use UML activity diagrams to describe and map the activities and actions within a system.

UML activity diagrams

BPMN activity diagrams

Business Process Modeling Notation—BPMN—is another modeling language and standard for diagramming business processes. BPMN and UML are similar regarding practical applications, and both are used heavily within IT and business functions.

BPMN activity diagrams

SIPOC diagrams

SIPOC stands for Supplier-Input-Process-Output-Customer. With a SIPOC diagram, you can document and track business processes as well as vendors, resources, materials, products, and end users. SIPOC diagrams are useful for things like business development projects and product launches.

SIPOC diagrams

Swimlane diagrams

A swimlane diagram is a type of diagram that delineates who is responsible for each step in the process. Each person involved in the process has a "lane" of actions they're responsible for. These lanes, resembling the lanes in a swimming pool, provide additional clarity and ensure all project participants understand their roles and responsibilities. Swimlane diagrams are popular among project managers.

Swimlane diagrams

ANSI flowcharts

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) oversees standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. ANSI flowcharts feature a standardized layout and symbols that make them universally readable for anyone familiar with the ANSI style.

When to use a workflow diagram

Workflow diagrams are powerful tools for process documentation and workflow management. Some common workflow diagram use case examples include:

Supply chain management and logistics

Workflow diagrams are ideal for recording supply chain and logistics information. With a combination of flowchart lines and symbols, you can map a product's journey from raw materials and manufacturing to packaging, distribution, and beyond.

Project management

Project managers use workflow diagrams to show the steps of a project and assign tasks to different contributors. Workflow diagrams provide a valuable visual reference for a project timeline, keeping everyone accountable and on track.


Sales teams use workflow diagrams to map their outbound sales workflows. The workflow diagram format can help salespeople organize opportunities, track potential leads, and cultivate existing customer relationships.


IT professionals and cybersecurity specialists use workflow diagrams to map system information, document security measures, and execute cyber incident response protocols. Workflow visualization helps technology experts streamline and automate processes within highly technical systems and programs.


Workflow diagrams are commonly used within healthcare settings to document intake flows, emergency procedures, and other standard protocols. When used for establishing standard procedures, workflow diagrams help create a safer, more efficient workplace for staff and a better patient care experience.

Benefits of workflow diagrams

Workflow diagrams help you visualize the different steps in a business process. Some key benefits of workflow diagrams include:

Finding new ways to improve efficiency

When you create a workflow diagram, you have to sit down and consider every single step in a process. As you get the full picture of what is needed to complete the process, you'll be able to see redundancies and unnecessary steps more clearly. Once you eliminate those inefficiencies, you'll be left with a more streamlined and productive workflow.

Showing your team how their work fits into the big picture

It's hard to avoid siloing, especially when a project involves contributors from different teams or departments. Workflow diagrams help everyone understand how their role contributes to the overall project and desired outcomes.

Making plans and progress toward goals

A workflow diagram can lay out the exact steps needed to progress toward future goals. Seeing the path to success laid out visually helps unify and motivate everyone involved.

Isolating and repairing inefficiencies

Identifying and fixing weak points within a long-standing process or workflow can be challenging. By using a workflow diagram to map out each step in a process, you can easily isolate and repair inefficiencies and eliminate roadblocks. Sometimes, simply rearranging or reallocating certain tasks makes the whole workflow more effective.

How to make a workflow diagram

To make a basic workflow diagram, follow these simple steps:

  1. Pick a process to visualize. Workflow diagrams can branch off when a process has multiple paths, but it's best not to try to visualize multiple separate processes in one workflow diagram.
  2. Determine your start and endpoints. If your process has multiple possible outcomes, write down each possible ending point.
  3. List all steps and events along the process. You can write these in an outline or list format first, rather than immediately putting them into the workflow diagram format. This will make it easier to add steps as you think of them and put them in the correct order before filling in your diagram.
  4. Identify and minimize inefficiencies. Go through your list of steps, and look for redundancies and inefficiencies. Eliminate unnecessary steps if you find any.
  5. Build and fill in your workflow diagram. Use the appropriate workflow diagram symbols to indicate steps in the process, decision points, and actions to take.
  6. Share your workflow diagram. Show the diagram to your team members, get feedback, and make adjustments as needed.

Why use MindManager to make workflow diagrams

With a workflow diagram software like MindManager, mapping your workflows is quicker and easier than ever. Key features of MindManager include:

  • User-friendly, intuitive interface
  • Extensive image library—over 700 topic images, icons, and symbols to add to your workflow diagrams
  • Convenient file storage, retrieval, and sharing
  • Powerful integrations with file storage apps like Box and OneDrive
  • Google Docs integration via Zapier
  • Numerous templates, tools, and features to facilitate brainstorming and strategic planning
  • Google Chrome extension—MindManager Snap—to easily collect and import text, links, and images from the web
  • Ability to add rich data—links, images, and documents—directly to your diagrams and charts

MindManager is for anyone with problems to solve and tasks to complete—across any industry, department, or role. With MindManager, you can intuitively gather all relevant information in one place and organize it in a dynamic, visual way.

Workflow diagram templates

MindManager comes pre-installed with workflow diagram templates. To use these templates:

  • Open MindManager
  • Click NEW in the navigation menu
  • Select the template you want to use
  • A preview screen will appear - check to see if you'd like to use your selected template
  • Select 'Create Map'
  • Customize the template for your specific project

Workflow diagram FAQs

What is the difference between a workflow diagram and a flowchart?

A workflow diagram is a flowchart intended to visualize processes and workflows. Flowcharts can also be used to visualize things like software systems and computer programs.

What are the symbols used in a workflow diagram?

The basic symbols used in a workflow diagram are ovals, rectangles, circles, diamonds, and lines or arrows. The different symbols help users understand how to read and follow the steps in a workflow diagram.

Use a workflow diagram to go with the flow

Workflow diagrams are used to visualize business processes, projects, or jobs. They provide a framework for documenting each step of a process, helping you see both the big picture and the finer details simultaneously.

With different types of workflow diagrams to choose from, professionals in IT, logistics, sales, healthcare, and other industries use them to visualize processes and boost their team's productivity.

Visualize more with MindManager

MindManager features powerful, dynamic workflow diagram templates to help you document and streamline your key processes. To make your first workflow diagram, try MindManager today.

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