Process flows exist in multiple industries and are used to diagram a wide range of processes. With so much variety in application you might hear a different explanation regarding the purpose of a process flow and how to create one.
In UX design, process flows are always from the POV of the user persona and diagrams out the series of steps—or journey—that a user or users will take in a specific process (e.g., making an online purchase).
The type of diagram used to create the process flow is not prescriptive. The primary goal is to capture the sequence, from start to finish, of the steps a user takes to successfully achieve a particular outcome—but not the individual activities involved in the steps. In other words, a good process flow diagram shows what the user does, but not how they do it.
For example, a process flow showing how a user would build out a new car will cover steps such as selecting the model trim, exterior, interior, and options, and then seeing the result. What it won’t do is go into the different details that would be found each step (e.g., selecting engine type and colors).
User-informed process flows to solve business pain points
The process flow is the first diagram in Stride’s Discovery process that shows the merging of business requirements (the new process) and the users’ expectations.
Where possible, I like integrating the persona’s pain points within the diagrams so we can see where in the process these users were frustrated. By visually connecting pain points to a process, team members tend to switch their thinking from seeing pain points as complaints to instead seeing them as problems that need to be solved. The upshot is it helps us to design for improved customer satisfaction.
At Stride, we do not have a “one size fits all” process flow template but rather use a diagram type (e.g., flowchart diagram, customer journey, swim lane diagram) that best conveys the information needed at that point in the project.
For example, we’ll start with the flowchart diagram that lays out the steps of the process, and then move on to a customer journey. A customer journey shows the user’s expectations and focus at the various steps of the process. This is where we begin to see the tie-in with how content can support the business objectives along with the user’s expectations.
Depending on the type of project, we may also show any toll gates the persona will encounter. Tollgates are where a user has to stop and wait for something. This is particularly helpful if time tracking is an element of the process, as tollgates show where delays are and why they are happening. If the delay is within the company’s control to shorten or remove, improving the process can result in notable business benefits.
Process flows help build a better product
Ultimately, process flows based on UX personas are the next stage of design that help us to build a better product, centered around user needs and expectations.
Since they articulate the end-to-end process, process flows give us an idea of the overall scope and identify opportunities where the process can be streamlined, improved, or merged with others. They help us identify steps that may be outside of the software solution as well as those that must be included, which in turn starts to inform our list of features.
Process flows set the stage for workflows, which detail out the various activities needed to complete the process. Without a process diagram, we wouldn’t necessarily know where these activities fall within the overall flow or how they relate to information that precedes it.