Cool Flowcharting?
March 5, 2007 6:07 AM   Subscribe

What's a cool way of doing a business flowchart? You know, one that traces the flow of transactions through the various departments of the business? Preferably something that is not too complicated nor requiring a great eye for design.
posted by limon to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It's not clear from your question whether you're asking for design inspiration or software recommendations. If it's the latter, I'm awfully fond of OmniGraffle, which has a very easy learning curve. (Mac only, though, if that's a concern.)
posted by j-dawg at 6:17 AM on March 5, 2007

I think most of the modern flowchart software targeted at the average end user is relatively easy to use and will make things look pretty good. Visio comes to mind as one alternative.
posted by mmascolino at 6:34 AM on March 5, 2007

Second Visio. It's not very hard to learn, either.
posted by rachelpapers at 6:50 AM on March 5, 2007

I'll tell you this much: I work in a successful business, we do lots of charts and all the charts we do are boring MS Office type charts (mostly Excel and Powerpoint). The information conveyed is what we want to stand out as "cool", the form of the charts should simply disappear.
posted by 2bucksplus at 6:50 AM on March 5, 2007

Perhaps might fit your needs? Free, platform independent and quite easy to use.
posted by verevi at 6:52 AM on March 5, 2007

Not to stick up for Microsoft, but apparently they hired a designer for Office 2007 because suddenly their charts look really nice, and their org charts aren't that hard to work with.

I mention it not because it's the best, but because Office is so common in companies, I figured it's a good bet there's a copy somewhere at work.

Is there a Visio 2007 yet? If it uses the Office 2007 charting engine, I'm sure it's users will be pretty pleased with how the charts look -- less so with having to learn the program all over again.
posted by illovich at 7:07 AM on March 5, 2007

Not sure about specific software packages - although I'm sure that there are some that facilitate the layout, presentation and browsing of the information - but it sounds to me like you're after a Data Flow Diagram, a staple of business and systems analysts and designers.

I used to do them by hand, and then re-create using Visio - definitely not the best tool in the box (unless your layout is 100% spot-on before starting); there's some links to DFD tools on the wikipedia page that I linked above...

Even though I'm not a business analyst any more, I still find that the process of mapping things out as a DFD helps to clarify what's going on, and it makes it very easy to (a) spot flaws in processes and (b) to explain the interrelation of processes to others.
posted by Chunder at 7:27 AM on March 5, 2007

If by 'doing' you mean 'software for doing', everyone's mentioned the usual suspects - Visio, obviously, but also OmniGraffle (for Macs). You can do the charts in anything you feel comfortable in, but having stencils (both applications have them) makes the process of doing them much, must faster, and if you're looking to automate the process involved, you can do neat things with Visio and Visual Basic.

If by 'doing' you mean 'want to learn more about flow charts', then you're looking to find out more about BPM - business process management. The neat thing about this field, though, is that you can bring the techniques from BPM into any field where you're dealing with information and how it changes - from business analysis, requirements analysis, and data modeling up to things like information architecture, information and knowledge management and interaction design.

An interesting example of brining BPM into another field is probably Jesse James Garrett's work bringing process maps to the world of information architecture. Again, the point is not what software you use or what field you're working in - it's the idea that you have to map how the information (and subsequent processes) flow before you do anything with it (build a database or web site, make a process better, etc. etc.) Now if only we could get more people agreeing to that simple principle (mapping the information before anything else)...
posted by rmm at 8:50 AM on March 5, 2007

I teach my students to do flow charts for websites using Inspiration. It may be to childish for you but it is on every machine in our district and easy to use.
posted by nimsey lou at 3:29 PM on March 5, 2007

Check out this periodic table of visualizations (which was linked here recently). See the swim lane diagram on the right side in the middle (Sw), which can probably be done with a spread sheet.
posted by Brian B. at 5:57 PM on March 5, 2007

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