By Vanessa Richter on October 08 2018 15:45:02
In terms of the Information Systems industry, flowcharts have been used for years, well before the introduction of the commercial computer in business. Originally they included process diagrams; later they were used by programmers as a convenient means to document program logic. Such flowcharts typically made use of ANSI standard flowcharting symbols. But as the Structured Programming movement flourished in the late 1970`s, ANSI symbols were considered archaic, and many new types of diagramming techniques emerged, including Bubble Diagrams, Data Structure Diagrams, E/R Diagrams, HIPO, VTOC, etc. (anybody remember Nassi-Schneiderman Charts?). I could argue the pros and cons of the various techniques but that is not the point. What is important is that all of these diagramming techniques acknowledged documentation as an inherent part of the design process.
This is not easily done, especially in a large room with multiple experts who know only a small portion of the entire process. Each contributor who works within the team can identify their specific areas they deal with on a daily basis, but do not necessarily understand or know the linkages and dependencies that exist outside of their general areas.
I recently overheard a Business Analyst say there was more to systems architecture than drawing boxes and arrows on a piece of paper. This may be true to a degree, but the ultimate deliverable of any engineering/architectural practice is a set of drawings from which to build a product. Architects and engineers do not spend all of their time drawing diagrams; for example, they have to specify requirements and analyze such things as the stress of components to determine the suitability of materials for use in design. But aside from this, the end result of engineering or architecture, their deliverable, is a set of drawings, be it a blueprint, a floor plan, wiring diagram, plumbing, or a set of flowcharts.
Once the team recognizes the problem areas, they can easily adjust the map to a future state version that can dramatically affect performance and turnaround time of the purchase order process.
Flowcharts can be quickly created in many computer software programs; even recent versions of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint contain Smart Shapes that allow users to rapidly insert a flowchart into a document of presentation. Specialist Flowchart Diagramming software also exists but for sheer versatility and the ability to connect data to shapes I would put my money on Microsoft Visio. It has a huge range of ready-made stencils containing all the shapes you could possibly need (and the ability to create your own if you wish), and very slick automatic connection features. Visio also allow a flowchart that dexcribes one process to become part of a larger process and to integrate with it via a hyperlink from a button on the drawing page.
Each flowchart should ideally begin with a Terminator shape, from which the next step should be linked. Each shape should be indicative of a specific stage in the process and there are conventions for each of these, the most common being the rectangular "Process" shape. Many others exist, however, including shapes representing Data, Documents and Decisions. Decision shapes are diamonds, each of the four corners (or nodes) being either a link from the preceding shape or action to be taken in the next stage depending on the decision.