Thursday, August 14, 2008

Flowcharting for Project Quality Assurance

It's usually beneficial to approach project problems in new ways. One effective technique you can use when addressing problems related to project quality assurance is flowcharting. You can use this method of problem solving to visually map the process or problem in question.

Flowcharts graphically represent processes and activities. They can help you identify the source of specific problems, which will enable you to find solutions. In addition, they can make communication about problems easier, help you discipline your thinking, and show how different elements fit together.

You can use two types of flowcharts for quality assurance purposes—the cause-and-effect diagram, and the process flowchart. Details about these two types of flowcharts are provided below.

1. Cause-and-effect diagrams
For every quality-related effect or problem in a project, a cause must be identified. Cause-and-effect diagrams can help you establish a cause, whether it is a problem or a desirable result an organization has found and wants to reproduce. These diagrams are also called fish-bone diagrams, because they resemble a fishbone with branches slanting off a main "spine."

When causes are established, they are categorized according to type. Cause types can include such things as materials, machines, people, and information. They are represented with a branch on the fishbone diagram. All subcauses connect to these branches.

Cause-and-effect diagrams are useful in brainstorming sessions because they act as visual displays for dividing large problems into manageable parts. Listed below are the four steps for constructing a cause-and-effect diagram.
  • Identify the problem or effect. To identify the problem or effect, place a concise statement of the problem in a box at the end of a horizontal line.
  • Identify the causes. Next, in a brainstorming session, identify any causes for the problem. Focus discussions on one cause at a time. Possible subcauses are identified at this time as well.
  • Build the diagram. In the third step, build the diagram. To do this, organize the causes and subcauses into the diagram layout. Each branch should represent a cause-type, such as materials, machines, and information. Connect subcauses to these branches.
  • Analyze the diagram. Finally, analyze the diagram. Identify the logical solutions by considering whether each solution is achievable.
2. Process flowcharts
Flowcharts also indicate what is done throughout a process, from one step to another. On these process flowcharts, information about a process is placed inside or beside an appropriate symbol.

With some training, anyone on a quality improvement team can draw a process flowchart. However, everyone should clearly understand the meaning of each symbol used on the flowchart, including the symbols for Operation (a rectangle), Movement/Transportation (an arrow), Decision Point (a diamond), Inspection (a large circle), Paper Documents and Delay (both specialized rectangular symbols), Boundary (an oval), and Connector (a small circle).

To create a process flowchart, you draw a picture of the process. With some training and practice, flowcharting can be a straightforward process. Follow the steps listed below to complete this task.
  • Define the process steps. First, you should identify the steps in a process by holding a brainstorming session and letting everyone on the team provide input.
  • Sort the steps in order. Next, identify what is done at each step and then sort the steps in order.
  • Place the steps in the appropriate symbols. The third step involves placing each step in the appropriate symbol. Use standard symbols to sketch the flowchart.
  • Evaluate the steps. Finally, reevaluate the steps. This will ensure that the process is complete, efficient, and free of problems. Be sure to review the actual process and then make any necessary revisions to the flowchart.
Flowcharts are effective tools for enhancing the quality assurance of a project, as they graphically represent processes and activities. They can help you identify the cause of a problem or effect, and identify problems in a process.

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