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Keywords: Diagramming, Diagrams in UML, Information visualization

Flowcharts


A flowchart is a type of diagram that represents a work process, workflow or computer algorithm. It graphically represents a step-by-step approach used in analyzing, designing, or managing processes. Flowcharts help in visualizing complex processes or make explicit flaws or bottlenecks in a process. The steps in a flowchart are represented in various shapes such as rectangles, ovals, diamonds, circles, and are ordered by connecting 'arrows' to define the sequence or flow. There are different types of flowcharts and each type has its own set of boxes and notations. In addition, flowcharts generally flow from top to bottom and left to right. 

Flowcharts are very versatile, they can be simple charts or comprehensive computer-drawn diagrams. Overall, they are one of the most common diagrams and used by technical and non-technical people in various fields. Flowcharts are referred to other names including: flow chart, process flowchart, functional flowchart, process map, functional process chart, business process model, process model, process flow diagram, work flow diagram, business flow diagram. They are also related to popular diagrams such as Unified Modeling Language (UML) Activity Diagrams.   

A simple flowchart representing the process dealing with a non-functioning lamp. Source: Draw.io for Confluence


The two most common types of boxes in a flowchart are rectangular boxes and diamonds. The rectangular box is is a 'process step' and it is referred to as an activity. While the diamond shape represents a decision. These are the basic or standard building blocks, however there are different shapes that can be used when creating flowcharts

A flowchart is "cross-functional" and can be divided into vertical or horizontal parts to describe the control of different organizational units. When a box or diamond is placed within a specific organisational unit that unit holds responsibility and control. This allows flowchart creators to allocate responsibility for performing actions or decision-making and to showcase which/where organizational unit holds responsibly within different parts of a single process. 


History

The Flowchart first came to light in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1921, Industrial engineers Frank and Lillian Gilbreth introduced the"Flow Process Chart" to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). In 1930s, industrial engineer Allen H. Morgensen introduced the "Flow Process Chart" to his company as a strategy to make operations more efficient. In the 1940s, Art Springler introduced the flowchart to renown company Procter and Gamble, and Ben S. Graham adapted the flow chart process to information processing at the Standford Register Industrial. In the 1940s, the versatility of flow chart began to shine. Herman Goldstine and John Van Neumann used flowcharts to develop computer programs and diagramming became increasingly popular to explain computer algorithms.  


Flowchart Symbols

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) set standards for flowcharts and symbols in 1960s. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted the American standards in 1970. Common symbols are listed below. These symbols and more are available through draw.io app, a diagramming software tool. 

Source: Draw.io for Confluence


Flowcharts for Computer Programming & Algorithms

As a visual representation (visualization) of data flow, flowcharts can be useful in explaining complex ideas or processed specifically when it comes to coding a program or algorithm. Flowcharts can help demonstrate the way a code is organized or the structure of a website or application. Flowcharts have been replaced or used in conjunction with pseudocode, a combination of natural language and computer language. 

Flowcharts depict certain aspects of processes and are usually complementary to other types of diagrams. In computer software this includes: 

  • Unified Modeling Language (UML): This is a general-purpose language used by software engineering for modeling purposes. UML has its own set of diagrams, the UML activity diagrams are closely related to flowcharts.  
  • Nassi-Schneiderman Diagrams: In computer programming, it is a graphic design represented for structural programming, these diagrams are also known as Structograms. 
  • DRAKON-charts: DRAKON is an algorithmic visual programming and modeling language used to represent flowcharts. 

An example UML activity diagram Source: Draw.io for Confluence


Flowcharts in Other Fields

Flowcharts are universal and versatile, they are used in various fields including business, education, sales & marketing, manufacturing, engineering, etc. For example: 



Types of Flowcharts

Flowcharts can be models from different perspectives based on the user groups such as managers or data analysis. There are different classifications available when it comes to categorizing flowcharts offered by various experts. But in general, they fall within four categories: 

  • Document flowcharts - demonstrates controls over a document flow through a system
  • Data flowcharts - demonstrates control over a data flow in a system
  • System flowcharts - demonstrates controls at various levels (physical or resource)
  • Program flowcharts - demonstrates controls in a program within a system


How to Create a Flowchart

There are several ways to make a flowchart. In the 1930s when the concept was first brought to light, flowcharts were created and used by hand using pencil and paper. Today, flowcharts are created using a flowchart maker such as draw.io app, a software diagramming tool. Learn how to create flowcharts using draw.io and find more information through the draw.io blog.


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This content was last updated on 04/21/2021.

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