A Good Flowchart is a Simple and Easily Understandable One

A Good Flowchart is a Simple One

“If you’re over-complicating the simple, instead of simplifying the complicated, you’re part of the problem” – Pinterest

Seeking solutions and answers to problems is a never ceasing exercise. Flowchart diagrams provide answers to problems, but a good flowchart will do so efficiently, pertinently, and unambiguously. The fact is that what makes a good flowchart is simplicity – the format, design, and all that is encompassed within it would be simple and easily understandable. The underlying premise of using flowcharts is to simplify even the most complex processes / steps, and creators of such diagrams must remain aware of the tips to make a flowchart.

The fact about flowcharts is that they follow a prescribed, methodic, and systematic design. To ensure a good flowchart, it is pertinent for the creators to be able to clearly visualize the processes, and prepare the flowchart such that it creatively achieves the aim of problem solving. Experts however caution against taking any kind of creative leeway with the actual design of a flowchart – it is better to stay with the fundamental design of this tool.

An ideal flowchart follows some set and focused rules (these apply to all flowcharts). It is important to remember that the flow of this diagram is either left to right or top to bottom, with return lines running below the flowchart without overlapping. The spacing between and the size of each symbol must remain consistent, and each step must use the shapes / symbols that are prescribed in the formulaic design of flowcharts. It is acceptable to use capital case if the creators have found a way to do so without taking up too much space.

Flowcharts are usually used to substitute thick and intimidating text, and hence a good flowchart will be one that expresses the process on a single page. A chart would become unreadable and hence unusable if users were to flip between pages. When using flowcharting to describe a complicated process that will not fit in one page, it is advisable to break down the steps of a process to be reflected in multiple flowcharts – with each diagram remaining on one page. To ensure that you have a good flowchart – one that is free of obsolete words, shorter synonyms, has a readable image resolution, and uses a font and size that will further the cause of placing the chart on a single page. A properly created diagram is one that is consistently formatted – making it look organized, structured, and professionally done.

Creating a flowchart may seem easy. However, even the most adept creators can go wrong if they do not take the time to review their charts. A good flowchart would be polished and consistent – in design, language, use of symbols, fonts and size, and even the colors. It is a good idea to get another person to review the chart such that in case the creator missed out even the minutest of errors, a ‘second pair of eyes’ would help uncover them. As mentioned, there is not much scope for creativity in the formulaic design of flowcharts, and hence keeping them minimalistic is the best way to create a good flowchart.

The premise of this tool is to help anyone who views it, to be able to understand exactly how something works – such as workflow, operational processes, organizational hierarchy. In the over-enthusiasm of making a diagram ‘pretty and ornate’, it is extremely likely that it would end up being confusing and incomprehensible, which defeats the purpose of a good flowchart. We are not saying that creativity is not possible – however, it is better to be creative with the colors, lines, and fonts of the design choices. When creativity is used intelligently, highlighting the key elements and delineating the important portions becomes extremely simple. However, it bodes well to remember that a good flowchart is simplistic yet powerful.

A good flowchart uses symbols carefully and precisely. The fact is that each symbol has meaning and represents something, and hence using it for everything, could just end up making a confused and unusable chart. It would be helpful to read up about the various symbols and use them pertinently. The idea of this diagram is to provide a solution to a problem. It is advisable to use a key /icon to represent the options and opinions included therein. These too need to be simple so as to elevate the readability and impact of the flowchart. A flowchart that is to read well, will never lose the message in visual overload and chaos.

The sign of a good flowchart is one that is proportionate, and there is no visual clutter. The height and width of such a flowchart would be balanced, including the symbols used therein. The connectors, however, are intentionally smaller, and hence they do not need to be increased in size to match the other portions. Another portion of flowcharts that is sometimes overlooked is the direction of branches, and the most widely acceptable flow directions are either left to right or top to bottom. However, it is important to remember that only one direction should be used in one flowchart – both should never be mixed.

A good flowchart will take into account even the minutest details such as the spacing provided around symbols – which should be consistent. The only exception would be decision symbols where more space is provided in order to accommodate branch labels. Another factor of flowchart is scaling – if a flowchart needs to span more pages, it is advisable to do so rather than cramming it into a page and rendering it blurry and unreadable. For those who prefer a one pager – using a high level flowchart is a good idea. A high level flowchart encompasses a number of steps of the process into one. Whatever decision is made on a flowchart, ensure that there is no visual clutter. You could also use a circular node to connect one flowchart to the next, rather than cramming them on a single page, which would defeat the purpose of simplicity and easy readability.

While we advocate the use of flowcharts for most processes, across businesses spanning several industries, there are times when this extremely useful and graphical too would not be able represent certain processes / situations. When the job to be represented is unpredictable yet goal oriented, flowcharts would not work given their formulaic design and nature. Too many variants within a process, dependent on actual data would not be ‘candidates’ for representation in a flowchart design. Some experts believe that in order to define and ensure the achievement of goals and customer outcomes, flowcharts are best avoided, since they do allow or show customer focus and a personalized method of interaction. Flowcharts irrespective of the detailing would not be able to capture the events that could potentially disrupt the limited execution of the process, which could lead to some complex problems.

As mentioned, drawing up a good flowchart is not an easy task, and should only be attempted with proficiency to preparing them. Someone with an eye for detail, an understanding of industry standards, and the ability to express more with less, would be ideally suited for preparing flowcharts. Use these tips to elevate your proficiency in preparing the ideal flowchart.

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