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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A new Creately Desktop Release amid Wesak

Today, we interrupt our usual slew of posts on diagramming and diagram types to make a new release announcement for Creately Desktop. Thanks to some really great customer feedback, we’ve been able to take all your concerns and include it into the latest Creately Desktop release. Some of the improvements include bug fixes, ensuring the process of syncing is smooth and trouble-free, while minute issues related to licensing have also been resolved. With this new release, you are sure to enjoy fast and easy diagramming par excellence.

Additionally, we got some great news for all our Creately for Fogbugz users. You can now renew your 1-year maintenance license by logging in with your existing account and extending your maintenance here. This license will allow you to enjoy a year’s worth of cool new upgrades for a nominal fee.

Indeed, things like bug fixes, new releases and updates may have kept the Creately team busy this past week but the truth is it has been a slow couple of days due to the celebration of Wesak in our R&D office in Sri Lanka. Taking some time off, the development boys and girls decked the office with colorful lanterns that are intrinsic to such an important religious festival.

Creately’s R&D center in Sri Lanka

As this week winds down, make sure that you stick to this space since the next few posts will focus on Sitemaps and some best practices related to it. Additionally, we just launched our Flowchart Minisite and Wireframe Ministe, so this is definitely a repository of valuable information that you should take a peek at. Stay tuned, more diagramming joy comes your way soon!

 

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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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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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6 Useful Tips on Drawing Flowcharts

Drawing flowcharts can be a challenging task unless you know how to create them. But, if you’ve understood the basic principles, flowcharts are fairly simple things. It’s too simple and it’ll probably need one line to explain. Truly speaking, there’s more to flowcharts than simple shapes and arrows connecting them.

When I had to create my first flowchart, I did a lot of reading to understand the meanings and use of the flowchart symbols; and the importance of creating process flows. Here’s some useful tips and twiks to help you create better flowcharts in future. Read below for 6 tips on drawing flowcharts:

Why are you drawing the Flowchart(s)?

Identify why you are drawing a flowchart. It may be to explain a process to someone, to understand a process, to find loopholes in a process flow and so on. Whatever may the reason be, its important to identify the objective on why you want a flowchart. Once this is clear, you’re job is pretty straight forward!

Are there many ‘actors’ involved?

Swimlane chart is the best way to explain a process flow which includes different responsible parties (or things). They help clarify who / what is responsible for each step quite easily.

If you have many actors (say more than 6), it might be better to generalize them if possible. Ex. rather than having three columns for Bob, Wiley and John at Marketing department, just group them into the Marketing department. Again, it all depends on who the audience is.

On Swimlanes, Creately has some neat tricks that automatically glues shapes to swimlanes so you don’t miss them when resizing etc.

Decide on the start and end points of the flowchart

As trivial as it may sound, a flow with random endings is more confusing than it helps. So choose the objectives and keep it simple.

Break it down into multiple flows

Very long flowcharts can be very complex and tend to make the reader overlook details that you are actually trying to convey. It is best to break down a flowchart into sub-flows. Use the connector and inbuilt link feature to create automatically linked documents with sub-flows in Creately.

Use colors meaningfully

You can color code your flowchart objects to convey things like Risk involved, Who’s responsible, Process state (Draft/Final), basically anything you want. But always remember to include a legend on the corner so everyone knows how to read the chart.

Get your team on-board

Documenting processes or planning steps requires careful review and thinking. You can use Creately’s inbuilt collaboration features to help kick this process off easily.

View the discussion thread.

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Flowcharts & Worklow Diagrams | Creately

Creately is an online flowcharting software. It comes with an intelligent interface and easy start ready-made Flowchart templates to create professional looking Flowcharts & Workflow Diagrams in minutes.

Try Creately for Flowcharts

Here are some flowchart and process flow diagram examples created with Creately. Like what you see? Then check out why Creately is the easiest software for creating fast and professional Flowcharts online.

Flowchart Example

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Workflow Diagram

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Flowchart Template

Flowchart Template

Business Process Diagram

BPM Diagram

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