Text or Flow Charts? Mixing flow charts and text in procedures



We are fine tuning our system to be ready for the surveillance audit in October. Some of the departments want to use flow charts rather than text in the procedure book. They say the flow charts are easier to follow. I agree but wonder if it is a good idea to mix flow charts and text in the procedure book. Also if I use flow charts only, is it enough or should I back it up with text?

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Hi Michael!

Should you use flow charts or text? What is good for the department(s)? Do that and defend it if needed when scrutinized by your auditors.

When we were developing our procedures for QS9 implementation, flow charts were for us easy to develop with small groups of operators from each of the departments, using the verb / noun step by step, and easily reviewed as a training tool for new employees in those departments. Sometimes a sentence or two with some of the steps is necessary for clarification. This is easily done with most flow chart software. You canb also indicate a particular form that is required, color code critical steps, or "SPC" monitored steps, and so on.

Consider picture procedures. An inexpensive digital camera with a line or two under each picture is another way to flow chart the process. Our customers gushed over our first ones several years ago, demanding copies to take back with them to show their other suppliers.

There are still some who write two to ten page text procedures, attempting to get each step-by-step in some type of order, and nobody reads them. They usually turn out to be either way too detailed, or way to general. I like the flow chart approach.

When I usd to audit - internal and supplier, I looked at "operator instructions" at work sites, and if there was 5 or 6 or more pages of text I usually asked a local operator who wrote it. Almost always there was a shrug and it usually turned out to be somone in the "office," with little or no operator participation. This is not necessarily bad, it can work, but I have often found them to be of little real value.

But do whatever works for your company.


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Mixing them should make absolutely no problems. Do the flow charts. They make sense. They're relatively easy and indisputable (interpretation is easy as compared to pages of 'descriptive' text). I can't think of one down side, my self.

Whether or not you use 'extra' text depends upon the complexity. The test is to ask whether someone can take the flow chart and understand what to do. Sometimes you might need some clarifying text. Many times I have seen flow charts preceeded by a page (sometimes 2 or 3 pages) of 'preamble' such as related documents, definitions, etc. But this is your call.

Yeah - go with the flow charts.

Andy Bassett

For me there is no contest, flowcharts everytime.
I have developed the following system. Use ony three types of boxes in ther chart;
Activity (ie something is actually done)
Question (If/Then)
If documents are created or used sometime in the process, show their exact name is bold italic print.
On the right hand side of the flowchart have a column for who actually is responsible for activity, and next to it another column for who actually receive the information.

Personally i also make someone responsible for the whole process, this is useful, because if a process is correctly defined it will cut across department boundaries and avoid the responsibility falling down the cracks between the departments.

I have not doen it yet but i also like the idea of colour coding flowcharts depending which person or department is responsible for the activity.

Andy B
IMO, considering how often work instructions are used and the endless discussions they create we are better off with out them.
Training and visual aids integrated into Mfg. cells is more effective and much easier to control.
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