We explain what a flowchart is, the types that exist and how it is made. Also, what are its characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.
What is a flowchart?
A form of graphical representation of an algorithm or a certain process is called a flowchart or activity diagram , frequently used in diverse disciplines such as computer programming, economics , industrial processes and cognitive psychology.
These diagrams are a process control and description tool that can be used to organize, evaluate or even initiate processes of various kinds, which makes them a versatile and simple tool.
Symbols used in a flowchart
The main symbols used in a flowchart are:
- Start of diagram
- Carrying out activity
- monitoring activity
- connection between parts
- Decision making
Types of flowcharts
The horizontal flowchart is the most common model.
There are four types of flowchart based on the orientation of their representation:
- Horizontal. The flow of operations goes from right to left, according to the order of reading . It is the most common model.
- Vertical. The flow and sequence of operations are from the top down. This is an ordered list of operations according to their purpose.
- Panoramic. They represent the entire process on a single chart, using both the vertical and horizontal models.
- Architectural. Describes a person ‘s work itinerary or a form about their work area .
Rules prior to making a flowchart
Before starting the development of a flowchart, the following steps should be considered:
- Identify the main tasks of the process along with their author and context.
- Define what objectives the flowchart will pursue.
- Identify who will read it and in what sense.
- Choose the level of detail and limits regarding the entire process.
Steps to follow to make a flowchart
Then, to build a flowchart you must:
- List the processes and threads that will be represented and the type of symbol that corresponds to them.
- Identify starting points and decision points, with their respective options.
- Trace the flow lines respecting the chronological sequence between the processes and going step by step along the way.
- Check the process and assign a title that makes clear what it illustrates.
Advantages of a flowchart
Flow charts promote visual understanding of processes.
Flowcharts have the following advantages:
- They illustrate professional models and processes creatively.
- They favor the visual understanding of the processes, by representing them in a simple way.
- They allow the detailed study of the stages of the processes and the definition of the problematic or risky moments, without having to see them live.
- They serve the pedagogical purpose of educating recent employees.
Disadvantages of a Flowchart
Flowcharts can be very labor intensive to produce.
Flowcharts have the following disadvantages:
- Its apparent simplicity can mask unpredictable or contextual variables that can only be seen in situ .
- They do not serve to represent all kinds of processes, or fall short in some cases of extreme complexity.
- They can be laborious in their elaboration, since they lack the synthetic capacity of the written word.
- An error in the symbology can make the entire diagram unfeasible.
Flowcharts were invented in the early 20th century , although their origin remains poorly understood. It is attributed to Frank Gilbreth, of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), who would have postulated it in 1921 under the name of “Graphics process, first steps to find the best way”.
It was introduced to the computing world in the early 1970s and proved to be very useful and popular, especially with new hardware and third-generation programming languages.
Applications of a flowchart
Flowcharts allow the creation of complex pieces of software.
The applications of this type of tool are absolutely varied: from cognitive decision-making processes (typical in the manuals of some trades) to the design of complex pieces of software and automated processes, in which the cold process is represented before to put it to run.
Characteristics of a good flowchart
A good flowchart should be self-explanatory, with little ambiguity , as in many cases no one will be there to translate errors or inaccuracies to whoever reads it. It must be “tested” numerous times before being implemented.
No process or thread should be ignored in rendering and options should be highly specific when it comes to decisions.
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