What is a Flowchart, and why is it important?
Flowcharts are visual diagrams outlining the separate steps of a process in sequential order using symbols. They are a tool relied upon by business users and programmers for various purposes. For example, a programmer may create a flowchart to help a stakeholder visualize how data enters a program, different transformations within the program, and how the data converts to an output.
One reason for the popularity of flowcharts is that they make it easier for users to communicate how they plan to implement business requirements for a new process or application. They also help you analyze a process from start to finish. That way, you can help ensure you don’t forget to account for steps covering critical inputs, outputs, and procedures.
Swim lane flowcharts segment different functionality into separate lanes. For example, you can create a swim lane flowchart that contains routes for the work processes performed by other organizational areas like accounting, human resources, and operations.
Cross-functional flowcharts show who’s responsible for making sure different functions get executed and when they happen. When you’re dealing with an extensive, complex process that involves multiple people, teams, and departments, a cross-functional flowchart can help viewers understand how information flows between different areas.
An SDL diagram illustrates modeling language used to show how event-driven applications work in real-time. They’re often used within industries like aviation, communication, medical, and automotive. SDLs are ideal when you want to describe the behavior of complex software.
Influence diagrams are visual displays of decision problems. They outline critical elements like any roadblocks or objectives to achieve at different points.
The terminal is an oval symbol used to indicate when a program starts, stops, or comes to a halt. It’s often used to outline programming logic that contains error conditions. The terminal is the first and last symbol used in a flowchart.
The decision symbol, usually represented as a diamond shape, illustrates the point in a process where a choice must be made. The operation typically involves a yes/no decision or true/false. The path of program flow can change depending on the choice made by a user or an automation process.
Parallelogram shapes typically represent inputs and outputs. They indicate where a program receives or sends out information. Users rely on the shapes to describe actions like keying in data, displaying information on a screen, or printing it to a separate device.
Connectors within a flowchart represent exit and re-entry points for a program or process. They’re represented by small circles that contain a number corresponding to other functions. Connectors are helpful placeholders for situations where users need to account for a program that doesn’t allow a continuous flowchart presentation.
The display symbol indicates text that should display to the user from an interface.
Process symbol, represented by a rectangle or square box, details specific functions within a program. For example, a programmer might add a process symbol to their flowchart to outline how their program will calculate sales tax for an eCommerce shopping application.
Let’s say you wanted to build an application that compared two numbers entered by a user and displayed the larger of the two. Here’s a breakdown of how you might design the flowchart.
Flowcharts make it easier for technical users to communicate more complex logic within a system. In addition, they can act as guides for creating the blueprint for designing a new program. Many programmers use flowcharts to help them with debugging.
The visual flow of the shapes within a flowchart makes it easier to spot inconsistencies and perform analysis. Flowcharts are also a great tool to help users maintain proper documentation standards while working on a project. Using flowcharts can help business users and developers become more efficient since they can easily track data flow through a process.
While flowcharts are a great way to provide clarity around a business process, they can also end up causing confusion or misleading others. You can avoid those kinds of mistakes by sticking to good flowchart design.
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