7 advantages of flowcharts that help solve BIG business problems

During the CoVID-19 pandemic, the Victorian state government began producing a huge volume of information for the community and business. The information while useful seems to be a shotgun approach instead of being laser focused. This leads to gaps that cause confusion and may place the community at risk.
Russ Porteous
CEO, Firewize
31 Aug, 2020
CoVIDSafe Work Plan - Return to Work Flowchart

I love producing flowcharts to help guide our business decisions, flowcharts come in many forms and I particularly like Process Flowcharts, Workflow Charts & Swimming Lanes.  There is a great article on Gliffy that covers the different types of flowcharts.

A friend of mine has a mantra that says if you have to do something more than once then create a system for it.  The tricks to creating a great system (and associated supporting documents) that people use is to make sure the system reflects your requirements, solves your problem and that people follow it.

At Firewize we primarily use TWO tools to document our systems;

  1. Mind-maps
  2. Flow Charts

Before we start mind-mapping and creating a flowchart we need to have a problem we want to solve.  The genesis of this article was us trying to answer the simple question;

When can a worker who is a close contact of a person who has tested positive to CoVID-19 return to work, and what are the conditions?

With the potential for extremely high fines for individuals and business, we tried to document and answer this question in the decision making process in the form of a flowchart with relevant facts and links to official government publications.

This flowchart needed to be simple so that all workers could work out what they needed to do, and the next action when presented with a decision.

Mind-Maps

A mind-map is a way to facilitate a brain dump of all of the information, ideas and connections related to a subject.  We use a few tools for mind-mapping but the most convenient is a blank wall, thick marking pen and coloured sticky notes. I also like to have a specific time frame to complete the mind-map so it forces us to act quickly and write down everything that comes to mind.

There are plenty of YouTube videos you can watch that can help you understand how to mind-map and I like this one in particular because it is concise and conveys the principles quickly.

Interestingly in preparing this article I thought I had skipped the mind-mapping step but then I remembered that I was collecting related links and articles online, which in itself is a form of mind-mapping.

To keep track of the information and facts necessary to document the flowchart, we started crawling the web with the search phrase "return to work after close contact covid site:vic.gov.au" and looking through the search results.

Content Triage

Articles that are relevant to our "return to work" question were reviewed and if relevant were bookmarked, I use "Pocket" for bookmarking.

Once the articles are in Pocket wer can then triage them even further using Tags ot the "★ Favorite" feature of Pocket so we can quickly distill our list even further.

This iterative approach helps us distill content quickly, saving time.

In conducting the research for this article, we had to read over a range of documents from the State Government;

Some of these documents (the ones from the Public Health Commander) are written in leagalease are complicated and the answers are not easy to determine.  As you can see from this list and if you do a Google search, there are currently between 40,000 and 71,000 indexable items of content published, and this is just from sites with .vic.gov.au in the domain name.

40,600 Google Search Results CoVID-19 for Site:vic.gov.au

Flow Charts

Once we have our mind-map complete we start the process of creating a flowchart. The flowchart shown in this article is an example of the outcome we are trying to flesh out and develop.

As I said earlier there are many types of flow chart, so we first need to determine the best type of flowchart for our needs.  In this case we determined that a "Process Flowchart" was the best option.

For our business process mapping we create flowcharts using a massive whiteboard (2.5m x 2m), once again using square sticky notes and this time whiteboard markers. 

Workflows typically have a start and an end so our job is to fill in the gaps in the middle.

Our process was taught to us from John from Brain in a Box. The process is fairly straightforward however I recommend if you are new to flowcharting that you engage a professional like John to teach you the core principles.

Our method is that we write on each sticky note a key (high level) concept or junction about our workflow. Once we have the main elements of the workflow mapped our, we then position the sticky notes on the whiteboard and then connect each sticky note with a line illustrating the flow of the process.

CoVIDSafe Work Plan - Employee Return to Work DRAFT Flowchart

One of the benefits of John and his team is that they can very quickly produce very professional flowcharts for your business if you follow their system.

7 advantages of flowcharts that help solve BIG business problems

  1. Flowcharts are an effective method for communication key business concepts and processes;
  2. Flowcharts document the business process that that the business needs workers to follow;
  3. Flowcharts can help identify business process improvement and automation opportunities;
  4. Flowcharts increase operational efficiency;
  5. Flowcharts help business identify roadblocks to operational efficiency;
  6. Flowcharts help identify roles and responsibilities;
  7. Flowcharts promote consistency.

Using a mindmap In the process of developing a flowchart can be useful in helping us foresee problems that can adversely affect the outcome of our desired process. This helps us eliminate the risk of these problems before they even arise.

What did I learn in trying to answer the initial question?

When can a worker who is a close contact of a person who has tested positive to CoVID-19 return to work, and what are the conditions?

I started to research the answer to this problem at 7:30 in the morning, after googling for 4.5 hours, I finally decided to call the Department of Health and Human Services on the contact phone numbers I found on their website (1800 675 398).  I was originally reluctant to do this because I had heard and I was fearful there were very long delays in getting through.

To my surprise the biggest delay I faced was navigating the Interactive Voice Response ("IVR") system (push ONE for this, push TWO for that).  So the delay in getting through including the IVR was about 90 seconds!

The first person I contacted was unable to answer my question but described it as a "Special Case" and offered to connect me to the right DHHS department.  Unfortunately the transfer failed and I was cut off.

I called back again and this time using a different number 1300 651 160 and again, I was lucky enough to speak to an agent within 90 seconds of dialing the number. (I have to say this was very impressive).

The agent I first spoke to was helpful but once again was unable to help answer the question. Thankfully I was transferred to another department (three different agents so far) and this one was GREAT.  While she (Maggie) did not have the answer immediately, she politely asked me to hold (for about 3 minutes) while she did some research.  When Maggie returned to the call, she directed me to the best place to find out the answers;

As I said earlier these were written in an unfriendly way for the average person to understand (this is where a flowchart comes in).

So I spent the next 90 minutes reading and documented my findings in a flowchart that that an average person can read and understand.

What can the Victorian Government learn from this?

The Victorian Government (and many Governments for that matter) are so busy creating content for people to consume that often they appear to be creating content at the sacrifice of communicating effectively.

My suggestion is that our Governments should invest more time in researching, documenting and presenting information in a concise and simple way, and starting with a flowchart would be a great first step.  This would deliver them all of the 7 advantages of flowcharts that help solve BIG business Government problems.

At Firewize we help building owners and agents of owners effectively manage fire and essential safety measures compliance in their buildings. Our goal is to leverage systems and processes to ensure the safety of occupants, safeguard compliance and prolong the life of their property investment.

If your interested in chatting with us about how we can help, simply schedule a call with me.

I hope you found this interesting and useful.

Russ