Definition, Limitations and Benefits of Flowcharts

“We do not learn for the benefit of anyone, we learn to unlearn ignorance.” – Michael Bassey Johnson

Sketches, drawings, doodles, artwork, illustrations, and diagrams have retained a perennial appeal in the minds of human beings. The early stages of human civilization find a certain representation in sketches and paintings executed on the walls of primitive living spaces, such as mountain caves. Many instances of such spaces have survived and accorded heritage status in the present day; the artistic creations embedded on cave walls underline the exploratory bent of mind inherent in the human species. In contemporary times, sophisticated editions/versions of illustrations have appeared in the form of blueprints, flowcharts, design documents, and associated visual devices. These manifestations of human ingenuity serve functional purposes in domains as varied as architecture, commerce, system design, engineering, planning, industry, technology, and academia. Such prolific application of connected illustrations points to the many benefits of flowcharts and the multiple points of their interaction in the varied domains of human endeavor.

In terms of formal definition, we must note the fact flowcharts elude any attempts to impose nomenclature or any form of classification. These representations of ordered illustration represent a product of human thought processes; they allow ideators/architects and designers to develop ideas through a series of stages and sub-stages. Flowcharts also operate on a unique form of visual grammar that incorporates the troika of signals, symbols, and signs. Therefore, the benefits of flowcharts appear in the codification of thought and ideas enabled by an expanse of engineered diagrams. These illustrations also serve as repositories of multiple meanings, graded ideas, mainstream processes, alternative courses of action, and illustrated visuals. Certain observers have noted the benefits of flowcharts include a specific mode of visual communication, the ability to transmit an individual idea to masses of audience, the rendition of complex thoughts into simplified structures, the power to explore additions to a core concept, the creation and revision of a grand vision, etc.

Further to the above, the benefits of flowcharts are manifest in reinforced capability to develop/explore/illustrate ideas and processes. This adds significant firepower to human endeavors in a variety of domains. For instance, marketing professionals could utilize flowcharts to develop the contours of large, multi-stage campaigns to be unfurled over digital media platforms. Flowcharts enables these individuals to explore different versions of campaign, delineate the various stages of a campaign, plan and execute the contents of each stage, develop innovation into the texture of campaign operations, create budgets in line with campaign requirements, calibrate the impact on various segments of audiences, and measure outcomes of marketing campaigns. Therefore, these illustrations promote the concepts of design and prototyping, prior to the actual implementation in real world conditions. Multiple flowcharts, designed in sequence, could enable such missions, thereby spotlighting the benefits of flowcharts in modern enterprise.

The exploration of alternative systems and paradigms offers clear benefits to ideators and operators of processes. This gains heft in light of the fact alternatives can emerge as harbingers of refinement, a phenomenon that can uplift the quality of performance in systems and processes. For instance, the global manufacturing industry can reap the benefits of flowcharts by shaping alternative processes of manufacturing a variety of industrial and commercial goods/products. Flowcharts enable the mission by allowing process designers to create new ecosystems/sets of process that deviate from mainstream systems, yet offer similar outcomes. Complexity could emerge in such diagrams, necessitated by the application of innovation and technology in the development of new ecosystems. Additionally – flowcharts remain instrumental when operators of process undertake to ideate on new perspectives informed by different factors such as market conditions, the flavor of demand emanating from consumers, the mandate to reduce costs of production, and other such ideas. This instance clearly spotlights the benefits of flowcharts that accrue to industrial manufacturing processes.

Review mechanisms continue to hold significant relevance owing to their ability to spotlight errors in – for instance – the modes of execution of an idea, or detect avenues of dissonance inside expanses of process operation. In light of this, we find that the primary structures of flowcharts (and their content) promote transparent reviews undertaken as part of the long-term operation of a systemic mechanism. For instance, operators of modern supply chains can embark on periodic reviews of flowcharts that describe every aspect of an operating supply chain. The interactions between the illustration and the minds of reviewers serves as an ersatz review mechanism, one that can contribute to the evolution/refinement of the depicted supply chain. Thereafter, reviewers can embed corrections and re-calibrations into the system, offer recommendations to operators of supply chains – thereby orienting the collection of processes into levels of higher efficiency. Hence, we could state that the benefits of flowcharts extend to the domain of system re-engineering; these illustrations also help to seed certain aspects of innovation into the matrix of extant business processes.

We may view ‘limitations’ as expressions of the deficient ingrained in structures and operating processes that define/embody a system. Examinations of industrial/commercial processes reveal certain forms of deficiency that could create wide variations in downstream impacts. In terms of the modern flowchart, we can locate systemic deficiency encoded in these diagrams; shortfalls emerge in the form of visual complexity that could negate a reader’s understanding of processes depicted in such illustrations. In addition, the essential structure of flowcharts fails to convey the entire scope or context in which processes operate, thereby generating gaps in the impression gained by average readers/reviewers. Fresh limitations emerge when we consider the disjointed message transmitted by multiple flowcharts that comprise the representation of a large network of processes. These observations significantly remove from the many benefits of flowcharts when these illustrations find deployment in different contexts.

Technical information that encodes in-diagram narratives must find incorporation inside flowcharts to complete acts of transmitting meaning. This construct helps generate a narrow beam of specialized information that requires subject matter expertise for correct interpretation. Therefore, this emerges as a limitation that erodes the benefits of flowcharts in the public domain. Additional forms of limitation emerge when we consider the fact that flowcharts can bear abbreviated content that necessitates the use of devices such as in-diagram legends. The constant dialogue between abbreviations and legends can limit the uptake of information for the lay reader.

Layers of complexity also arise when designers assume a certain level of knowledge/experience in the minds of readers; additional expressions of limitation reside in the fact flowcharts rendered digitally can feature connections to external repositories of information. This poses a potentially fresh hurdle to comprehension; however, we must note such structures must gain expression to promote higher levels of comprehension, a fact that may elude the vision of the average reader/reviewer. Human intelligence could equip designers to create better modes of understanding, but this must be considered work in progress because flowcharts continue to occupy the domain of the specialized. In light of these statements, we could state benefits of flowcharts encounter a series of proverbial roadblocks that merit further investigation.

These explorations, ruminations, and lines of analysis allow readers to gain a better understanding of graduated illustrations known as flowcharts. The design potential inherent in these diagrams defies the bounds of the human imagination, and therefore humankind must develop a closer embrace with flowcharts as a means to achieve its destiny on this planet.

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