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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Part 2 : 15 Mistakes you would unintentionally make with Flowcharts

This is the final post of our two-part series on FlowchartsPart 1 can be found here. Remember what really matters is having clarity and attention to detail when drawing flowcharts. In keeping with this train of thought, check out the rest of the interesting mistakes that we have compiled below.

9. Define alternate paths clearly

In certain flowcharts, processes do tend to fork. For the sake of clarity, it is best that you specify whether one branch needs to be followed or all of them.

 

 

 

 

 

10. Beware of loops

Processes may not run forever. However, make sure that you do document processes that may be too excessive that it affects the clarity of the flowchart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

11. Be descriptive

It is suggested that you use a footnote, a call out or even a separate document to offer more detail for those process step descriptions that may need more detail.

 

 

 

 

12. Use a flowchart key

One of the best practices of using flowcharts is to have a flowchart key describing the symbols that are used.

 

 

 

13. Battling inaccuracy

When drawing flowcharts, remember that verifying the flowchart steps is critical to avoid any inaccuracies.

 

 

 

14. Stick to one level of detail

It’s best that you stick to a certain level of detail, e.g. a high-level, mid-level (like the diagram above) or detailed flowchart.

15. Don’t leave room for any uncertainty

Planning ahead would mean that you avoid any unwanted mistakes. So ensure that you ask questions like, “What happens next?”, “Is there a decision made now?”, and “Has the process description been complete?”

 

 

 

 

 

We hope this series has been useful. For more information on flowcharting, you can check out our site. If you got any queries or comments, please do get through to us.

 

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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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