Cross functional flowcharts: process improvement through better visualization

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With almost every business or a subset of it, there is an associated process. Significant efforts are made to understand these processes through visualization and then develop them in such a way that they can be made smoother and more efficient. This kind of process visualization and management becomes even more difficult when processes involve multiple stakeholders or are spread across multiple phases with inputs from different teams. Traditional flowcharts are not enough when it comes to visualizing such cross-functional dependencies. In such scenarios, cross functional flowcharts (CFFs), also known as swim lane diagrams, are the ideal solution for process visualization and improvement.


CFFs are process flow diagrams (or flowcharts) that divide the process into multiple lanes (called swim lanes), with each lane signifying a stakeholder, stage, group, or a sub-process. Below is an example of a CFF for an insurance approval process.




As you can see from the above example, CFFs help visualize the process in a way that is easy to understand while providing much more information than a traditional flowchart.


Improved visualization and additional information from CFFs offer a host of benefits that can lead to significant process improvements.


Clarity in roles and responsibilities

CFFs bring clarity to processes by defining who does what. Each swim lane is representative of a person, team, or stakeholder, making it evident who is responsible for which stage in the process to help avoid confusion. Below is a CFF describing a new-hire onboarding procedure, a process common to almost every business.




This diagram very clearly states who will manage the paperwork, who will schedule the start date, who is responsible for scheduling the orientation, and who will conduct it. This clarity of the roles and responsibilities of different departments and stakeholders in any business process makes the execution smoother and reduces uncertainties.


Improved communication and coordination

Consider the software maintenance process below. This process involves five different teams and stakeholders. For an effective implementation of this process, and to avoid costly technical errors and system downtime, it is essential to have clear communication and coordination among all stakeholders.




This CFF helps define the dependencies of each stakeholder involved in the process, which in turn results in an improved understanding among the different teams. Having better coordination among teams and clear communications can also help significantly reduce the turnaround time of any process.


Improved efficiency: identify redundancies and bottlenecks

Clear process visualization with swim lane diagrams helps to identify overlaps, process duplication, or over-processing at any stage in the process. These inefficient practices are difficult to identify using a traditional flowchart for complex processes.

CFFs also help to determine the stages or teams that are (or could be) a bottleneck or a problem in the process. Identifying these bottlenecks early in the process can lead to better resource utilization and timely course correction to improve the process efficiency.

Consider the new hire onboarding process again. The division of the process into two phases—"Pre-acceptance” and “Post-acceptance”—helps teams analyze which phase takes more time. Teams can then spend extra effort on that phase to discover potential bottlenecks and resolutions for process improvement.


Easy to understand for all

CFFs simplify complex processes in such a way that everyone can easily understand them. Using Visio Online, you can easily share a CFF with anyone, from business leaders to the employees who are going to be a part of that process and make it easy for them to understand the process. This makes the process analysis easy, allows for better resource planning, and reduces the information asymmetry to make a process smoother.


CFFs can be applied to any industry for visualizing almost any process. In the examples above, we saw how CFFs can be used for process improvement in the financial services or IT industries. Similarly, CFFs can be used across other sectors like healthcare, retail, and more to simplify complex processes in a visual way that is easy to comprehend and provides more information than a simple flowchart.

This was just a glimpse of how CFFs can be used for better visualizing processes and finding the scope of improvement. Using Visio, there’s a lot more that you can do with these visualizations. Keep following our blog to learn more about using visualization for process improvement.


Get started with CFFs today!

We invite you to start using CFFs in Visio today to visualize your complex processes. Swim lane diagrams are also now available in Visio Online. We hope you’ll share with us how CFFs are helping you improve your processes in the comments below.


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