Cross Functional Flowcharts in Visio

A Cross Functional Flowchart is the same thing as a Swim lane Flowchart – it is used for showing departmental or individual responsibilities in a process flow.

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A cross-functional flowchart can be used to illustrate the relationship between a business process (task or procedure) and the functional units (such as departments or individuals) responsible for completing it.  In other words, it can show who does what in a process and can graphically highlight areas when one process overlaps with another one or situations when a bottleneck might occur.

What is a Deployment Chart?

There is no significant difference between a Deployment flowchart and a Cross-functional flowchart; they are two synonyms for the same concept, and are sometimes also referred to as “Process Maps”.  However you describe it, a cross-functional flowchart is an excellent tool for clearly displaying process flows across organizational boundaries and identifying delays, repetitive steps, excessive control points, specialized tasks, and potential points of process failure.

Shapes and Process flow

The shapes used in a Cross Functional flowchart are the same as the standard flowchart shapes; rectangles, lozenges and diamonds are conventionally used to represent the steps and decisions that make up the process.  Cross-functional flowcharts can display the process either vertically or horizontally.  Generally speaking, a vertical layout gives a little more emphasis to the functional units while a horizontal layout emphasizes the process.  It is important to spend a little time planning this, because by the time you get to the other end of your cross functional flowchart, you may forget who’s responsible for what, and why a shape is in a particular band.

Cross-functional flowcharts use the same routing style and direction as simple flowcharts, but the additional presence of swim lanes and phases can lead to routes that get hidden because they overlap with swim lane and phase boundaries.

Tools to create a Cross Functional Flowchart

No special equipment is required to construct a cross functional flowchart – a simple sheet of paper will suffice.  The best way to begin is to create enough bands to hold each step of the process you want to document.  Start by listing all the people or departments that will complete a task down the left side of a sheet of paper.  Write the first process step next to the name of the player who performs that task.  Write and draw a box around the second process step on the appropriate row.  When you are done, the “as is” process will be clearly documented.


Of course, this can be a time-consuming process in itself, and specialized software exists to make the job quicker and easier.  One of the best all-round diagramming tools on the market is Microsoft Visio.  Visio allows a Cross functional flowchart to be produced very quickly, and furthermore, allows for easy editing when changes are required – a potential nightmare with a paper-based flowchart.

Making a flowchart with Visio helps you identify waste and capture processing time and clearly displays cross-functional activity, so in Visio 2010 the swim lanes are containers.  The routing engine looks for these overlaps and adjusts routes to avoid them, so if you use Visio to make very long and wide swim lane diagrams, you may be glad of this new feature.

Phases in Process Diagrams

Most processes of any length or complexity will have distinct phases similar to those found in Project management.  In Visio 2010 there are several new features that help control these phases and clarify the process in so doing.  First, a swim lane is highlighted when a shape is added, and second, swim lanes can easily be re-ordered by dragging.  When they are re-ordered, the shapes they contain are moved with them.

If necessary, Visio also moves the glue points of dynamic connectors to different sides of shapes to avoid the boundary – a real time saver.  However, when a band is deleted all the shapes the band contains are deleted as well – something to be aware of.  Another new feature in Visio 2010 is that the title bar of the Cross-Functional Flowchart Shapes stencil will display its shapes when clicked.

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