How to make a flowchart in Excel including flowchart uses

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 11 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Flowcharts are a common type of visual diagram that depicts a process and illustrates the relationships between different points in a flow, which can be useful in various aspects of the business. There are a variety of ways to create a flowchart, including using Microsoft Excel. It can often be helpful to understand more about flowcharts and know how to create one that clearly illustrates a process or workflow. In this article, we look at flowcharts and how to make a flowchart in Excel.

How to make a flowchart in Excel

There are some steps you can follow if you want to know how to make a flowchart in Excel. This can be a convenient way to put together a flowchart if you're using data that's already in an Excel spreadsheet and want to make it easier to understand and interpret. Excel includes some features that let you create an effective flowchart but it's also necessary for you to do some work manually as well. Try following these steps to create a clear and effective flowchart using Excel:

1. Format a grid

Formatting a grid is optional for your Excel flowchart but it can make it easier to format the entire chart. Doing this as a first step can make the whole process easier. Formatting a grid means making the column width the same size as the default heights for rows. This makes the shapes you add more uniform and in proportion, meaning the flowchart is clearer and more aesthetically pleasing.

To change the column width, click the cell in the upper-left corner that selects all of the cells in your spreadsheet. Right-click on one of the columns and select “Column Width.” You can then enter a new width into the dialogue box. The font you're using determines the default column width and row height so it's worth considering this when formatting the grid.

Related: 6 Microsoft Office skills to include on a CV (with tips)

2. Enable page alignment

The next step is to enable page alignment, which is also known as 'snap to grid'. This ensures that the size and alignment of the shapes in the flowchart are consistent throughout by aligning them to the closest grid line. You can also choose 'snap to shape'. This aligns shapes with the other shapes closest to them instead. You can enable page alignment by clicking on 'Page Layout', then 'Align', then the type of alignment you want.

3. Adjust the page layout

Adjusting the page layout means ensuring that the layout and formatting is suitable for your purposes. If you intend to print your flowchart or transfer it to Microsoft Word it needs to fit on a single page. It's necessary to change your spreadsheet layout for this. You can make adjustments using the page layout tab. Some elements to think about are margins, the page orientation and the size of the page.

4. Add shapes

You can add shapes to your Excel flowchart in two different ways. You can either use SmartArt graphics or use shapes from the Insert tab. SmartArt shapes are pre-made groups of shapes while shapes you find under the insert tab are individual objects you can place and adjust as necessary. It might be worth considering which option most suits your purposes before you begin. Using shapes from the insert tab also means it's necessary for you to manually connect each shape with lines later.

5. Add text

You can now add text to the flowchart by clicking on a shape and typing. The text you add is usually a description of what happens at each stage of the process. If you're using SmartArt, the text automatically resizes based on how much you type. With shapes, it might be necessary for you to manually make adjustments to the shape or font size.

6. Add lines

If you're using individual shapes, you can now add lines to connect them. The line options are under the same insert tabs as shapes. You can click on the line you want and drag it onto the spreadsheet to connect the boxes. It's worth adding lines after you've added text to the shapes in case you want to adjust the sizing of the shapes.

7. Customise the flowchart

You can now finish your flowchart by customising it. You might want to adjust the thickness of the connecting lines or adjust the colour scheme to reflect your organisation's branding or to illustrate different parts of the process. You can also customise the fonts you use and the transparency of coloured shapes. This step ensures that your flowchart is visually engaging while being informative.

Related: How to create an organisational chart (with types)

What is a flowchart?

A flowchart is a visual chart in common use that depicts a process or workflow. Flowcharts are sometimes also called flow diagrams and you might encounter them in your career regardless of your industry or specialism. They depict the individual steps that a process involves in their sequential order and show the relationships between each stage of the process. A flowchart is a generic visual tool that you can adapt for a vast range of different purposes. This makes it a useful way to share information or plan and analyse processes in a work setting.

Flowcharts can include a variety of different types of information. The information they include depends on the process they're showing. Some types of information you might see on a flowchart include:

  • individual actions

  • inputs and outputs

  • decisions

  • people who are part of the process

  • the time each part of the process takes

Related: Guide to workflow: definition, components, processes and uses

What are the uses of a flowchart?

Flowcharts have various uses at work. They can be useful tools for staff training, presentations or introducing new processes and procedures. Organisations also commonly use flowcharts for process analysis because they help to clearly define and explain a process, which can help to indicate areas for changes or improvements. In a project management context, flowcharts can be a valuable planning tool. Some frequent uses for flowcharts include:

  • understanding how a process works

  • studying a process to identify improvement

  • communicating a process to others

  • improving communication between people taking part in a process

  • formally documenting a process

  • project planning

Benefits of flowcharts

Flowcharts offer a range of useful benefits. They're a way to visually communicate a process that might be complex to explain verbally or in writing, making it easier for others to understand. This can be particularly useful during staff training or when introducing a team to a new process. They also help to effectively communicate the logic that a process uses. They're also useful for analysis because they allow you to look at each individual step in a process and the process as a whole.

This can make it easier to identify potential issues or areas for development. Another benefit of using a flowchart is that it provides proper documentation of a process in a way that everyone who is part of the process can understand. This documentation is useful for clarifying points in the process and for referring back to when there are questions about how the process works.

Related: On-the-job training examples (with benefits and tips)

Limitations of flowcharts

Flowcharts are useful visual tools but they do have some limitations and drawbacks. It can be difficult to alter flowcharts because a change in one part of the process can have an impact on the whole process. This makes adjustments time-consuming. For processes that regularly change or update, there might be more efficient ways to communicate them than a flowchart.

Another limitation of flowcharts is that they can make complex processes look confusing or clumsy. A messy flowchart can be more difficult to understand or make it more difficult to pinpoint areas for improvement or development. If this is a concern with a process you want to document, it might be worth identifying if there are steps that you can group together to visually simplify the process.

Other ways to make a flowchart

Alongside making a flowchart using Excel, there are other methods you can use. For an informal or quick flowchart, you can draw one by hand. This is usually more suitable for fairly straightforward processes because it can be a time-consuming method. If you're drawing a flowchart by hand for a meeting or presentation, it might be helpful to do this using a large flip pad or whiteboard so that it's easily visible.

There's also a range of software available specifically for making flowcharts. This type of software can help you to create a flowchart that looks professional quickly and easily, including for more complex processes. If you have specialist software available, you might find that this helps you create flowcharts much more efficiently.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles