Quality Digest      
  HomeSearchSubscribeGuestbookAdvertise August 1, 2021
This Month
Need Help?
ISO 9000 Database
Web Links
Back Issues
Contact Us
Departments: Quality Applications

Flowcharting Keeps NASA Processes Grounded in Efficiency


Flatness Testing Shifts Into 21st Century at Chrysler


Flowcharting Keeps NASA Processes Grounded in Efficiency
iGrafx FlowCharter

A successful space program requires more than state-of-the-art technology and hulking astronaut suits. Without strong organizational procedures and effective process management, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s programs would be hard-pressed to launch even a grapefruit into orbit.

The Kennedy Space Center’s impetus to change its organizational procedures grew from an increasingly vast landscape of paper documentation. As the volume of paper increased, employee understanding and process management spiraled further into obscurity. The cleanup endeavor took on a sense of urgency as the deadline to transition to ISO 9001:2000 crept closer; it soon became apparent that the paper-based system was a relic NASA could not afford to maintain. Project managers at the venerable institution set out to meet the process improvement requirements of the new standard, modernizing facets of the organization left behind by the rapidly advancing technologies employed daily at NASA. With the help of Corel’s iGrafx FlowCharter, NASA was soon able to balance its organizational procedures with its outer space technology.

“We were asked to totally change our culture and the way we conducted business,” says Jim Lichtenthal, a project manager for NASA’s Process Management division. “Process improvement was a new discipline for us.” Lichtenthal and his team were faced with the mammoth task of translating hundreds of thousands of pages of textual process descriptions into a format that was quickly understood. Pursuant to a consultant’s recommendation, the team began experimenting with flowcharting, a visual diagram of the sequential path of information through a system, the operations and their sequence. This type of pictograph is traditionally an easy-to-understand and effective tool for identifying gaps.

The space center selected iGrafx FlowCharter to replace its text-based documents on account of its simple operability and robust tool set. The Process Management division clearly defined the center’s processes by conducting interviews and documenting procedures using FlowCharter, compressing lists of actions into graphic representations that staff members could easily comprehend. Aside from defining the center’s processes, the process flowcharts also revealed procedural disconnection and discovered processes that had gone undocumented.

FlowCharter also helped to liberate storage rooms at the space center. Lichtenthal and his team deduced that flowcharting diminished the amount of text-based documents by five to 10 times, freeing scores of rooms formerly brimming with paper-based documentation. Fifty-page process descriptions were reduced to fewer than 12 diagrams and stored electronically, out of sight but not out of mind.

“Process improvement forced us to rethink everything,” says Lichtenthal. “It seemed only logical that we should meet the same exacting standards that thousands of our suppliers were already meeting.” With FlowCharter, processes at the space center improved decidedly. Because flowcharts are easier to update than text-based process documentation, Lichtenthal’s team was able to change a process document in a few days instead of the months that were previously required. Using the same process framework, a documentation system for the space center’s hundreds of processes was born, making everything accessible through updateable links. Management now uses the system to view major process areas, determine process performance and identify areas of improvement.

Lichtenthal expects all of the processes at the space center to change yearly; with FlowCharter, adaptation and improvement have become ingrained in the organizational culture. The center continues to revise and update its system, introducing more tools to enhance its reflective understanding.

“Creating a system that was easy for our employees to use and understand was the major reason we switched from text documents to flowcharts,” explains Lichtenthal. Although FlowCharter fulfilled this prerequisite, it also exhibited other valuable characteristics. “We found that the textual documents sometimes didn’t reflect the sequence of events that made up the procedure,” he adds. “Often, the text documents had process gaps that didn’t show up until we tried flowcharting them. Just by converting the text to flowcharts, we immediately gained a better understanding of our activities.”

NASA has long fashioned itself a purveyor of understanding. Using the fruits of human ingenuity and intellect, the space program provides people on the ground with a more complete view of the world in which they live. It’s only fitting, therefore, that NASA now uses advanced technology in the form of iGrafx FlowCharter to explore and understand itself as a business enterprise.

iGrafx FlowCharter


  • Allows creation and storage of an unlimited number of diagrams per file
  • Uses customizable data fields for business and process data
  • Offers single-click Web publishing