Sunday, August 21, 2005

Flowcharting-the good, the bad and the ugly

When it comes down to describing processes, everyone has a different view of things! There are Flowcharts, Nassi-Schneidermann-Charts, Petri nets and other junk. I personally use flowcharts most of the time, as they are easiest to create, to brainstorm and to understand. However, some teachers prefer Nassi-Charts-which can finish off beginners straight away due to their comlicated nature. In the end, the poor fellows tought by those people don't know any of the two methods and create-um-crap.
While all three methods do have some benefits and shortcomings, one usually doesnt describe a million processes on a single page. Thus, the space needed by a flowchart is not really a problem. Whats significant-however-is creation speed. You simply dont have the time to draw an hour on a simple process visualisation. Also, Nassi-Schneiderman charts are extremely unsuitable for brainstorming.

Flowcharting is easy. All you need is a pen, some paper and a process-or you can use one of the many available flowcharting/drawing programs. But the difference between a good and a bad flowchart is small-it all depends on the style and the symbols you use. The symbols were standardizes in an ISO, but since this is not available on Google, we gotta look at third-party stuff.
So, here is a nice list of flowcharting resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flowchart
Here we have the english Wikipdia definition. Not too much useful information here, but good for showing to people who are new to the topic!

http://deming.eng.clemson.edu/pub/tutorials/qctools/flowm.htm
This is the typical whack-over-the-head tute we all know and love from our hacker clan days. While it misses out on some important symbols like the subroutine one, ti is a good introduction to the topic.

http://www.smartdraw.com/tutorials/flowcharts/whatis.htm
This tutorial by SmartDraw.com definitely contains a lot of ads for its own program. However, it conains a lot of useful information-especially on the first few pages.

http://www.fh-jena.de/~kleine/history/software/IBM-FlowchartingTechniques-GC20-8152-1.pdf
This IBM paper(PDF format) is pretty old(1970) and contains lots of useless information. However, it definitely makes a good read as it seems to cover about everything one can say about flowcharting. BTW, if this file ever goes offline, just email me at Tamog@gmx.at and I up the file s I have it archived.

And last-but-not-least: if you need a quick overview on actively developed commercial software for flowcharting, just look to the left and to the top of the article. God bless AdSense...
How do you process-visualize?