Flowchart basics

Visio FlowchartsMany of us use flowcharts in our daily work – indeed the creation and deployment of a flowchart is one of the most common tasks in business today. But what do we mean by a flowchart, and what is it supposed to do?

Well, flowcharts can be used to analyse  design, document or manage a process in a wide variety of fields. Examples could include a recruitment or accounting procedure or the logical process within a piece of software.

Other applications could be visualising the process such as Health & Safety, Equal Opportunities, Conciliation & Arbitration or Social Services within an organization.

There are several derivatives of the basic flowchart including the cross functional flowchart and the  Workflow Diagram.

So what are flowcharts?

A flowchart could be defined as a pictorial representation of a process in which the steps are symbolized by shapes – in other words a diagram that explains the steps in a procedure. Each shape should link to its neighbour by a connector line, and often these have arrow heads to describe the direction of flow.

Flowchart Shapes

Each flowchart should ideally begin with a Terminator shape, from which the next step should be linked. Each shape should be indicative of a specific stage in the process and there are conventions for each of these. The most common of these is the rectangular “Process” shape. Many others exist, however, including shapes representing DataDocuments and Decisions. Decision shapes are diamonds, each of the four corners (or nodes) being either a link from the preceding shape or action to be taken in the next stage depending on the decision.

What can be used to create Flowcharts?

Flowcharts can be quickly created in many computer software programs. Recent versions of MicrosoftWord and PowerPoint contain Smart Shapes that allow users to rapidly insert a flowchart into a document of presentation. Specialist Flowchart Diagramming software also exists, but for sheer versatility and the ability to connect data to shapes I would put my money on Microsoft Visio.

Microsoft Visio 2007

It has a huge range of ready-made stencils containing all the shapes you could possibly need (and the ability to create your own if you wish), and very slick automatic connection features. Visio also allow a flowchart that describes one process to become part of a larger process. These two parts can then be integrated via an off-page reference – a hyperlink from a button on the drawing page with a corresponding button on the linked page. A similar set of facilities is available in Visio 2003, and in the 2010 version flowcharts are even easier to create and modify.

Microsoft Office Themes

Microsoft Office Themes can be applied to the drawing to give a uniform and more professional look. Themes can have and different colour schemes applied to each page of the drawing to distinguish the various sub-processes for clarity.

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