All you Need to Know about Flowcharting

We thought of breaking up the usual string of UML diagram posts with a simple post onFlowcharting. If you have been a regular reader of our blog, you would have been privy to a great deal of information on flowcharts, like this one – Learn to unleash the power of flowcharts. While flowcharts are excellent when it comes to business, it would be prudent at some point to pay attention to some of the best practices with regard to flowcharts, in general.

       

You’ve probably already seen this title in one form or the other, but the truth is that there are some uses that need to be considered besides the obvious. As you may be aware, a flowchart is a visual representation, which shows you a sequence of operations that are to be performed in order to get the solution to a problem. While flowcharts may be applied to computer solutions, they can be used for a myriad of processes, as well. Flowcharts are an excellent tool when it comes to business, education and even something as myriad as a recipe or a how-to guide.

Misunderstanding flowchart symbols is certainly something that could leave you in a quandary, especially if you are not too aware of the relevance of flowcharting symbols. While there is no strict protocol as such when it comes to using boxes, circles, diamonds or such symbols in drawing a flowchart, they do help you to illustrate and make sense of the types of events in the chart with more clarity. Described below are standard symbols along with a visual representation right below.

  1. Data object – The Data object, often referred to as the I/O Shape shows the Inputs to and Outputs from a process.
  2. Rectangle - This is used to represent an event which is controlled within the process. Typically this will be a step or action which is taken.
  3. Diamond - Used to represent a decision point in the process. Typically, the statement in the symbol will require a `yes’ or `no’ response and branch to different parts of the flowchart accordingly.
  4. Document - The Document object is a rectangle with a wave-like base. This shape is used to represent a Document or Report in a process flow.
  5. Rounded box – This is used to represent an event which occurs automatically. Such an event will trigger a subsequent action, for example `receive telephone call, or describe a new state of affairs.
  6. Stored data - This is a general data storage object used in the process flow as opposed to data which could be also stored on a hard drive, magnetic tape, memory card, of any other storage device.
  7. Manual input - This object is represented by rectangle with the top sloping up from left to right. The Manual Input object signifies an action where the user is prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.
  8. Direct data – Direct data object in a process flow represents information stored which can be accessed directly. This object represents a computer’s hard drive.
  9. Circle - Used to represent a point at which the flowchart connects with another process. The name or reference for the other process should appear within the symbol.
  10. Internal storage – This is an object which is commonly found in programming flowcharts to illustrate the information stored in memory, as opposed to on a file.
  11. Predefined process – This allows you to write one subroutine and call it as often as you like from anywhere in the code.

While learning the various symbols that are associated with flowcharts are rather important, you need to also remember that there are certain guidelines in flowcharting that deserves some respect as well. The following are some guidelines in flowcharting:

1. Proper Form is Essential: In drawing a proper flowchart, all necessary requirements should be listed out in logical order.

2. Clarity is Paramount: The flowchart should be clear, neat and easy to follow. There should not be any room for ambiguity in understanding the flowchart.

3. Stick to the Right Direction: The usual direction of the flow of a procedure or system is from left to right or top to bottom.

4. Standard for Flow Lines: Ideally just one flow line should come out from a process symbol.  While only one flow line should enter a decision symbol, around three flow lines (depending on the answer) should leave the decision symbol. Additionally, only one flow line is utilized together with a terminal symbol.

5. Be Concise, not Copious: Write within standard symbols briefly.

6. Logic precedes Everything: If you are dealing with a complex flowchart then use connector symbols to minimize the number of flow lines. Ditch the intersection of flow lines to ensure effectiveness and better communication. It is imperative that your flowchart has a logical start and finish.

That wraps up this post, in the meanwhile, do get in touch with us here, if you do have any queries. For more interesting tips and trends on diagramming, stay tuned to this space.

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Explore the standard Flowchart symbols and their usage

Flowchart Symbols   Flowchart Symbols and their usage

This is an overview of all the flowchart symbols that you will use when drawing flowcharts and process flow. All these objects are available in Creately and you can try out a demo or take a look at some sample flowcharts for more context.

Terminal / Terminator

The terminator is used to show where your flow begins or ends. Ideally, you would use words like ‘Start’, ‘Begin’, ‘End’ inside the terminator object to make things more obvious.

Process / Rectangle

Flowchart Process object is used to illustrate a process, action or an operation. These are represented by rectangles; and the text in the rectangle mostly includes a verb. Examples include ‘Edit video’, ‘Try Again’, ‘Choose your Plan’.

Data (I/O)

The Data object, often referred to as the I/O Shape shows the Inputs to and Outputs from a process. This takes the shape of a parallelogram.

Decision / Conditional

Decision object is represented as a Diamond. This object is always used in a process flow to as a question. And, the answer to the question determines the arrows coming out of the Diamond. This shape is quite unique with two arrows coming out of it. One from the bottom point corresponding to Yes or True and one from either the right/left point corresponding to No or False. The arrows should be always labelled to avoid confusion in the process flow.

Document

Document object is a rectangle with a wave-like base. This shape is used to represent a Document or Report in a process flow.

Stored Data

This is a general data storage object used in the process flow as opposed to data which could be also stored on a hard drive, magnetic tape, memory card, of any other storage device.

Direct Data

Direct Data object in a process flow represents information stored which can be accessed directly. This object represents a computer’s hard drive.

Internal Storage

This is an object which is commonly found in programming flowcharts to illustrate the information stored in memory, as opposed to on a file. This shape is often referred to as the magnetic core memory of early computers; or the random access memory (RAM) as we call it today.

Sequential Access

This object takes the shape of a reel of tape. It represents information stored in a sequence, such as data on a magnetic tape.

Manual Input

This object is represented by rectangle with the top sloping up from left to right. The Manual Input object signifies an action where the user is prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.

Subroutine / Predefined Process

This shape takes two names - ‘Subroutine’ or ‘Predefined Process’. Its called a subroutine if you use this object in flowcharting a software program. This allows you to write one subroutine and call it as often as you like from anywhere in the code.

The same object is also called a Predefined Process. This means the flowchart for the predefined process has to be already drawn, and you should reference the flowchart for more information.

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Part 1 : 15 mistakes you would unintentionally make with flowcharts

We just finished with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 on the basics of UML diagramming. We now have a two-part series on Flowcharts. This is a very straightforward post, which you will find useful when it comes to getting your diagrams picture perfect. When it comes to flowcharts, one of the most significant things to consider is the element of clarity and attention to detail. Flowcharts, as we all know, can range from solving simple to complex problems. However, there is a list of common mistakes that are relevant to any flowchart, which you should be cautious of.

1. The use of appropriate symbols

Every symbol has a meaning. While it may seem convenient to use a process symbol for everything, this could end up confusing the reader. To get a better understanding of what symbols are relevant when, read up on what each object is all about.

2. Avoid flow direction that is inconsistent


The two most widely accepted flow directions are top to bottom or left to right. Having said that these two types of directions should not be mixed into the same flowchart. Consistency really does matter.

3. Excessive color schemes

Your flowchart is designed to give a solution to a problem. With this in mind, the last thing you want to do is to have your message lost in visual noise.

4. Symbol sizes should be consistent


Maintaining a flowchart that is well proportioned is vital when it comes to avoiding a visual mess. As a rule of thumb, ensure that the height and width are in proportion to each other and the rest of the symbols in the flowchart. This is not, however, applicable to objects that are meant to be intentionally small, like connectors.

5. The need for consistent branch direction

In a perfect world, a flowchart should be logical in all aspects. One of the areas that we do not pay much heed to is branch direction. The best example to illustrate this point is with Decision symbols. Ideally, TRUE conditions should flow out from the bottom while FALSE conditions should flow out from the right side.

6. Flowchart symbols and spacing

More often than not we choose to ignore this crucial point. To make your flowchart more professional you should maintain even spacing around symbols. The one exception to this rule would be Decision symbols, which require extra space to accommodate branch labels.

7. Remember to scale

One of the most basic facts that are overlooked is scaling. Too often a detailed flowchart is re-sized to fit just one page. This is never a good thing. It is better to have a flowchart span multiple pages than to be crammed into a small space, where all the details are unreadable. If you really aren’t happy to span your flowchart over several pages you might like to create a high level flowchart which incorporates several process steps in to one. Alternatively you can also group processes together and then collapse them to reduce the visual clutter of your flowchart.

8. Extended flowcharts

If your flowchart is connected to another flowchart, then instead of putting it in just one page, it is best that you connect it via a circular node to the flowchart on a different page.

Well that’s the first 8 done and tidied away. Keep this list handy and next time run through it at the end of your next flowcharting exercise. We’ll go through the remaining 7 mistakes in the next post. In the meantime if you have a common mistake you think others should avoid let us know in the comments and we’ll make sure it’s covered.

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Harry Potter’s (flowchart) options. Joining Glee is one of them

Harry Potter said it best in his latest movie – Oi! There’s a war going on here! – and, that pretty much summed up the entire film.

While we sat en masse in theatres, enthralled by the CGI and MSG (umm, Pringles) overload Deathly Hallows achieved the third best opening worldwide (in the franchise). One wonders whether Part Two will whet our appetites to wave a hollywood wand and wish a faster recovery for the world’s economy.

So while Harry takes a well deserved break and enjoys the millions earned, largely thanks to you going and watching his film, we’re contemplating his options for the next film. We thought we’d put a cynical twist in the form of a flowchart to see what his options are. Trust us, it’s sure to make a Death Eater grin.image

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Creately launches its Mini Site

The content we and the community are creating is all over the place, and we realized that our website visitors are getting lost in the maze of information. Thus, we’ve decided to start compiling the relevant resources into minisites (mini sites) focused on each diagram type. We believe this would help our website visitors engage with Creately better and faster than before.

We’ve launched our minisite on Flowcharts. Now, with this mini website you’ll find all the information typically relevant to flowcharts and their usage. Check out all the flowchart symbols, flowchart templates, usecases and more. While you check them out, we’ll work on getting the next minisite on Wireframes ready. So keep watching this space for more details.

And, don’t fail to let us know if you have any thoughts or questions on flowcharting. We’re here to help you around.

@Creately Team

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Flowchart Symbols

Flowchart Symbols and their usage

This is an overview of all the flowchart symbols that you will use when drawing flowcharts and process flow. All these objects are available in Creately and you can try out a demo or take a look at some sample flowcharts for more context.

Terminal / Terminator

The terminator is used to show where your flow begins or ends. Ideally, you would use words like ‘Start’, ‘Begin’, ‘End’ inside the terminator object to make things more obvious.

Process / Rectangle

Flowchart Process object is used to illustrate a process, action or an operation. These are represented by rectangles; and the text in the rectangle mostly includes a verb. Examples include ‘Edit video’, ‘Try Again’, ‘Choose your Plan’.

Data (I/O)

The Data object, often referred to as the I/O Shape shows the Inputs to and Outputs from a process. This takes the shape of a parallelogram.

Decision / Conditional

Decision object is represented as a Diamond. This object is always used in a process flow to as a question. And, the answer to the question determines the arrows coming out of the Diamond. This shape is quite unique with two arrows coming out of it. One from the bottom point corresponding to Yes or True and one from either the right/left point corresponding to No or False. The arrows should be always labelled to avoid confusion in the process flow.

Document

Document object is a rectangle with a wave-like base. This shape is used to represent a Document or Report in a process flow.

Stored Data

This is a general data storage object used in the process flow as opposed to data which could be also stored on a hard drive, magnetic tape, memory card, of any other storage device.

Direct Data

Direct Data object in a process flow represents information stored which can be accessed directly. This object represents a computer’s hard drive.

Internal Storage

This is an object which is commonly found in programming flowcharts to illustrate the information stored in memory, as opposed to on a file. This shape is often referred to as the magnetic core memory of early computers; or the random access memory (RAM) as we call it today.

Sequential Access

This object takes the shape of a reel of tape. It represents information stored in a sequence, such as data on a magnetic tape.

Manual Input

This object is represented by rectangle with the top sloping up from left to right. The Manual Input object signifies an action where the user is prompted for information that must be manually input into a system.

Subroutine / Predefined Process

This shape takes two names - ‘Subroutine’ or ‘Predefined Process’. Its called a subroutine if you use this object in flowcharting a software program. This allows you to write one subroutine and call it as often as you like from anywhere in the code.

The same object is also called a Predefined Process. This means the flowchart for the predefined process has to be already drawn, and you should reference the flowchart for more information.

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Case Study - FlutterScape | Creately

Web-based Flowcharts help Japanese startup integrate with partners faster

FlutterScape is a Japanese Social Marketplace which brings together sellers and buyers together in a casual and collaborative way. This give sellers the power to share their product discoveries, and expose buyers to unique products from abroad. FlutterScape is a small team with 3 internet enthusiasts who are passionate about improving the customer experience of both sellers and buyers.

Visual communication is one of the best ways of conveying abstract ideas across to the team. Takehiro Kakiyama, Co-founder and CEO of FlutterScape, had to visualize the business model, website eco-system and other logic to his team and clients. Having used PowerPoint initially, he wasn’t too happy. “It was really difficult for me to come up with a nice looking chart and flow diagram; it was time consuming and unfriendly in terms of sharing and collaboration. So google some keywords and learned about Creately”. said Takehiro Kakiyama.

With Creately’s online collaboration capability inviting team members and clients to collaborate on diagrams to review, comment and update diagrams is so easy.

When the team of FlutterScape considered to outsource their logistic layer, they negotiated the international shipping fee with possible logistic partners. The rate depended on the amount of operation they had to do for shipping packages.

Shipment required many use cases, so they used Creately to map out a shipment process flowchart based on the business model. They shared this flowchart model with the manager of the logistic company; on which he added/removed/suggested use cases based on their capability and experience. Then the FlutterScape team validated all the use cases - in case they failed to dispatch the package ‘cos its over-sized; or in case they shipped out the wrong article and the customer returns it to the logistic partner? In order to determine a smooth and effective process flow between FlutterScape and their logistic partner, they had to draw a shipment process flow before hand.

Creately’s online diagramming platform helped the team collaborate back and forth online and determine the international shipping rate based on the process flow.

Below is a simplified version of the Shipment Process Flow.

 

"The contribution of Creately to our business could not be measured in definite matrix but it has totally contributed to my efficiency whereby I saved a lot of time, leaving time to work on something else while Ari, my co-founder  and I were super hectic taking care of multiple tasks at the pre-launch stage. Thank you, Creately team!” concluded Takehiro Kakiyama. “Creately is a very user-friendly and smart service that really hits the spot. Creately is like “love”, so deep that the more you dig in, the more you can find out! “

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Analyzing Sales Funnel with Flowcharts | Creately

Filtering out the qualified customers from the less qualified is a hard task to begin with! But the job is well taken care of by the sales funnel. Sales funnel/pipeline acts as a strainer to direct qualified buyers through the sales process.

In fact, at the top of the funnel is where all the website visitors are (qualified, less-qualified and unqualified). The unqualified drop at the top, even before they move on to the next step in the funnel process, less qualified drop away at each step of purchasing process, and only the qualified make it all the way to the bottom of the funnel.

At Creately, we normally use funnel diagrams to understand the flow of a user through our website, to the application, and then onto the purchase pages (or not). Some great tools are out there to measure, but we use Google Analytics to understand our funnel and conversion rates.

We actually went and applied the same to our traffic funnel in three steps.

  • Identify how our potential customers find out about Creately. The ‘trigger’ to visit the site.
  • What their motivations are. Why are they here?
  • Identify the pages they land on, and craft a message that resonates with the visitor’s intent and motivations. This will achieve lower bounce rates and far better conversions in a funnel.

It’s easier to map this out in a diagram - a simple flowchart, and here’s ours, How People Discover Creately. Some of the bounce rates are guesstimates though.

We first identified the source for them to come to Creately, then we break them down by their motivations and where they would go on the site to what landing pages.

We refer to the whole logical sequence as a funnel. Now, how do you like our use of flowcharts in analyzing our sales funnel? If you’re convinced, try it out for your website now!

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Flowcharts for Strategic Decision Making

Our decision making skills are put to good use to solve problems and make choices. Making a decision implies choosing one course of action that has the highest probability of success from several alternative choices. The most difficult task in decision making involves picking the desired alternative by keeping the level of uncertainty low. But, very few decisions are made with absolute certainty because complete knowledge about the alternatives is hardly available. Thus, decision making involves risk taking, but the degree of risk involved varies between alternatives.

When you are building a software solution to solve a particular problem, you need to be focused on solving the problem and solving it well. Here at Creately, we chose to use a third party solution to complete a product that we were working on. In the excitement of getting the product out, we signed up with a 3rd party service without brainstorming on the list of other available alternatives. Once we executed the decision, we realised our mistakes. Lesson learned the hard way indeed!

This is exactly when we decided to use flowcharts in our decision making process. As flowcharting is considered to be a proven method in documenting processes, we adopted this to brainstorm, evaluate and identify the best alternative possible.

Below is an example of a typical flowchart used in decision making. This would help us evaluate the consequences of each alternative. 

How to decide on<br />  choosing a 3rd party solution.

Now are you trying to figure out the best online flowchart drawing software? Great, check Creately for free now to see how Creately works out to be the best alternative in drawing quick flowcharts online.

With Creately’s pre-drawn flowchart templates, smart flowchart symbols, 1-Click Create-N-Connect feature and the powerful interface make flowcharting is a breeze on Creately. Give it a try and you’ll soon love yourself for this.

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