Difference Between Flowcharts and Data Flow Diagrams

Flowchart and Data flow diagrams

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Sketches and illustrations are constant partners of human ideation in the modern world. You can develop an idea in the human mind through a drawing on paper, sand, or modern digital media. Data flow diagrams represent a form of graphic that adds flesh and bones to an idea. These ideas can pertain to complex industrial, engineering, scientific, and commercial processes, among others. The intent that powers the creation of these diagrams is to map said procedures in reasonable detail. We will examine some of the key points between a flowchart and a data flow diagram. You can also use a product knowledge tool like the interactive decision trees.

Flowcharts vs Data Flow Diagrams

Flowcharts come in handy when we break down a complex process into simple steps. Each step represents a stage within the process. These stages are connected by arrows from the start to the end of a process. The purpose of creating a flow diagram is to promote better understanding on the part of the worker, reviewer, and audience. The granular information derived from a flowchart enables reviewers to detect and remedy problems as they arise in various processes. On the other hand, information experts use flow diagrams to show the flow of data inside a system. This form of visual design follows a hierarchy. It may have several layers, but that depends on the extent and complexity of the system being represented.

Process Flow

The linear flow of a process inside a flowchart operates one step at a time. Each step follows a previous step and leads to another stage in the process. The sum of the linear flows defines the essence of the flowchart. For instance, a flowchart showing the creation of an automobile defines the multiple stages and steps that help the manufacturer complete the construction of the final product. You may need to redefine certain steps in line with the demands of the process.

However, the entire process is defined by how linear it is. When we review a data flow diagram, we note that the process inside the diagram can operate parallel to each other. These processes can also have different timing based on days, weeks, or on-demand. We may state that these processes operate independently of each other. Certain pieces of data inside a flow diagram can have a limited scope of use, while other pieces of data can find wide levels of application. We note this represents a key point of departure between a flowchart and a data flow diagram.

Representation of Essential Functions

Flowcharts show the various stages that enable a system to fulfill its intended functions. Each flowchart shows the cause and effect of various results that animate a process or a system. Flowcharts can have various names – such as system flowcharts, program flow charts, etc. On the other hand, flow diagrams indicate the essential functions of a system. You can divide the diagrams into various levels to denote multiple activities. Different tasks and scenarios can be embedded into these multiple activities. They contribute to the complexity of data flow diagrams. Therefore, we may state these diagrams are three-dimensional representations wherein data is always flowing between multiple levels. These diagrams also involve the occurrence of multiple outcomes depending on how data interact at various levels. This aspect represents one of the key points of departure between flowcharts and data flow diagrams.

Dependence on external sources

Flowcharts do not include any inputs and outputs into external sources and scenarios. A flowchart is self-contained. It describes the flow of stages that complete a system or process. A flowchart begins at ‘start’ and is completed with a ‘stop’. Basically, it’s a non-dynamic system. On the other hand, flow diagrams describe the path of data from external sources into processes and data stores that reside within a system. For instance, data flow diagrams used by an academic institution can include external inputs from various players such as students, tests, and student registrations. These are essentially variables that may differ for each academic season and therefore, may trigger different outcomes for each diagram.

Control elements

Flowcharts often include a control element in the visual shape of ‘diamonds’. They signify decisions – yes or no – that have the power to heavily influence or guide the results of a certain process. These control elements are part of the complex descriptions that outline the operation of systems and processes. On the other hand, data flow diagrams do not include any control elements or branch elements. They only describe the relationship of the data within a system or a process. These flow diagrams empower reviewers and audiences to visualize the operation of a particular system and its final output. In addition, they depict external entities, data stores, processes, and data flows. In line with this, we may state data flow diagrams bear no lines that cross each other and do not include loops and control elements.

Application of Flowcharts and Data Flow Diagrams

Some experts have noted flow diagrams are similar to road maps. These maps show the flow of traffic in a certain area or region. Similarly, data flow diagrams represent the potential for data to flow along various routes leading to different results. Computer coders and information technology experts often use data flow diagrams to create new software systems for application in the real world. The varying flows of data in these diagrams enable them to explore new data structures and apply recent advances in technology to solve real-world problems. In addition, the use of these diagrams shows the possibility of extant systems, leaving experts to refine current systems and their operations.

Data Representation

A modern flow diagram has external entities, data flow symbols, data store symbols, and process symbols. An external entity represents the sources of data that enter a data flow diagram. This is significant in diagrams that seek to map real scenarios. The data flow symbol represents the movement of data, while the data store shows data at rest and these two states of data can exist inside flow diagrams. The process symbol used inside a flow diagram shows an activity that changes data through combinations, re-ordering or conversions. The various interactions between these factors can spark business insights and enable designers and creators to explore new dimensions inside existing processes. These factors operate in concert to create the entity known as the modern flow diagram.

Final Thoughts

Earlier in this guide, we checked some of the points of departure between flowcharts and flow diagrams. We note these types of diagrams are useful in the digital world we inhabit as enablers in many fields of human endeavor. The use of digital technology has helped designers and creators to refine the paradigms that govern these scientific systems. The emerging data-centric paradigms should see further innovation in the use and applications of flowcharts and flow diagrams.

Their centrality in the design and creation of new industrial, engineering, scientific, and commercial processes clearly remains beyond dispute. Corporate and government organizations should invest heavily in research and development efforts in a bid to promote the use of flowcharts and flow diagrams. The intelligent application of such diagrams can enable data experts and process designers to make the best use of corporate and natural resources in the service of the market and humanity at large.

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