Have you ever tried to draw a flowchart? If so, how many times have you done it so accurately reflects the company’s operation? I bet you have done it several times because it isn't easy. Doesn’t matter which software you are using (there a plenty in the market) because by itself won’t tell you how to do it. Or if you decide to make it manually. The key element is how to turn the operation of the company or its areas, processes, transactions or even systems, among other things into a flowchart.
The first step is to get to know and understand the operation of the company, how an area works or how a system functions…that is to say, to know what you want to capture. You will need to obtain the information in order to understand. It will be useful to go over one of my articles posted in this blog “Foundations for work: how to get the information” where you can find tips.
After you get the information needed then you will have to decide if it is more convenient to draw by areas or job posts. All depends on how the information flows and how much detail you have. For example, if you want to capture the company’s operation in general it is best to make the flowchart using areas. But if you want to capture the recruitment and selection process in which several persons intervene, then it is best to include job posts so it can show the people who participates. There are other factors which affect such: as the size of the company, if the people who have the same job posts do the same, etc. There is no rule but only to be consistent on either using areas or job posts.
The second step is to know the flowchart symbols. For practical reasons the basic shapes are:
You can draw a flowchart either vertical or horizontal. I find easier to draw horizontal, but feel free to do it as you want. Keep in mind to draw: there can be included several “starts”, “ends”, and as many activities as needed, decisions, systems, etc. What it is important to keep in mind is that the description included in the boxes, cylinders or diamonds should be as clear as possible; neat, straightforward to the point. If you need to add more information, then you can use a description process (like a footnote) to explain outside the flowchart more detail on that activity.
Tip: Start by defining the areas or people who participates in the process. Then define which the trigger of your diagram is. It is the client? A supplier? An order from the CEO?
Be patience. You can start drawing the flowchart and in the middle realized that due on how the process flows, it is necessary to change the order of the areas or people involved. It is normal. Do it as many times needed so your flowchart “flows”…
It can also happen that at some point you realize that…you don’t have all the information needed! Either you forgot to ask it or during the interview, you didn't cover it. This happens. Go back and ask as much information as needed. But do not invent or assume. You are trying to capture the company’s reality so it’s important to be objective, professional and do it according the results of the interview.
Usually this situation happens with Directors. My experience has been they are more focused talking about general aspects of the company rather than what they do.
Be precautious when the company has several people with the same job position. Regardless if they tell you to do the same thing, interview them. Not in group, individually. For example, if they are five persons, interview three. If what they say is the same, then you can extrapolate they do the same. I’ve found out that the Director, Manager or person in charge can tell you that his employees do the same but in reality they don’t. I’ve also found out that sometimes even the boss doesn't know what its employees do! Or, unfortunately you realized there is a person that although you’ve interviewed when you try to capture on the flowchart his activities they don’t have nothing to do with what the area does. Or are the same activities of another person but in different area or job post.
Yes, making a flowchart can give you lots of surprises! (To you and the Directors)
After you finished, print the flowchart, if needed paste the sheets (it all depends on its length) and look it from the distance. Is the flowchart understandable? Does it flow from left to right? Is it complete? Does it make sense?
Make as much attempts as necessary to make the answer of all these questions a YES.
The benefits of using flowcharts are:
-Understand the flow of transactions from its origin to be materialized in the financial statements.
-Understand how an area operates and how its activities are related or affect other areas.
-Corroborate what people are really doing.
-Identify which are the reporting lines and documents generated or used.
-Identify the manual and electronic activities. (The latest is identified as a system)
-Identify risks and controls. Find the risk source. (In the next article we’ll talk about Business Risk Management so you can understand the concepts and include them in your flowchart)
We can say making a flowchart is equivalent to “take a picture” on how the company operates or is. Tip: for better results, become what you want to draw. Become money, documents, systems… and ask yourself: if I were one of these, on how many hands would I be? How many people would touch me? Yes, you can have fun drawing!
By Mónica Ramírez Chimal, México
Partner of her own consultancy Firm, Asserto RSC: www.TheAssertoRSC.com
Author of the books, “Don´t let them wash, Nor dry!” and “Make life yours!” published in Spanish and English. She has written several articles about risks, data protection, virtual currencies, money laundering. Monica is international lecturer and instructor and has been Internal Audit and Compliance Director for an international company.