Category Archives: Work work work

Flowcharting cheat sheet

How to go from sketching boxes to producing clear and consistently readable flowcharts, in under 500 words.

My team came across something like this online:

flowchart-no-no

It started a discussion on learning the most basic guidelines for making a good flowchart. I volunteered to write this and share it now in the hopes it’ll help future generations.

Using these will help not only make flowcharts more readable, by being consistent you’ll more easily find errors and things that are unclear in the flow you’re documenting.

Cultural note: this assumes you’re in a language/culture that reads left to right, top to bottom. Adjust as you see fit.

Direction matters

Overall, for chart flow

Reduce effort by flowing as your audience reads: left to right and then down. The chart as a whole all the way down to each object: arrows come in from the left and exit from top/bottom/right.

If you can’t do left-right for the chart (or an object’s connection), top to bottom’s 2nd-best.

dense L to R

Don’t go snake-style:

snake-style

Direction matters in decisions

Yes/No or True/False should go in the same direction each time they’re on the chart. Anything else creates confusion and possibly someone making the wrong choice.

Generally, I’ve found that the positive (“Yes”/”True”) is most easily read if they’re the up in up/down and right in left/right, but as long as you’re consistent it’ll be okay.

Sizing matters

Attempt wherever you can to keep the boxes a consistent size, unless the difference in sizing carries meaning.

Spacing matters

Keep the amount of space between symbols as consistent as you can. If you can, line up things of the same type, like decisions and conclusions, especially if they share something (for instance, they happen at the same time).

Decision boxes

Use them, they help immensely. Two ways to do this.

Recommended: diamond with annotated lines

diamond choice

If possible, put the labels right next to the decision — don’t make people search for what the decision is. They should at the decision point know the answer to the question and be able to immediately know which line to follow.

More readable for some people: diamond with answers. Requires the reader to scan all the landing points for the answer, and making the ‘answers’ obvious might require use of shapes and colors, resulting in more complexity. Still, if you prefer:

decisions as boxes

You will note that this is helped if you’ve already set the viewer’s expectations about which direction is which.

Okay, so let’s see this in practice

Take this:

flowchart-no-no

Applying only the suggestions here and a couple minutes of cleanup, and noting that there’s at least one problem in the flow there that’s concealed by it being a mess:

first pass cleaned up

If I put both of those in front of someone and asked them to follow through the decisions, it’s now much easier to read and figure out what to do.

Good flowing

Let me know if this helped, or if there’s more simple, easy-to-apply guidelines I should include.

Call for a price on how to improve calls to call for pricing

My new employer, Simply Measured, offers free tools and an enterprise plan for large companies. Which means that if you want to know how much it would cost your business to use our excellent products, a conversation needs to occur.

Which is funny, because I’d always pretty much believed what Joel about this in an excellent piece on pricing:

Bad Idea #2: How Much Money Do You Have? Pricing.

This is the kind used by software startups founded by ex-Oracle salesmen where the price isn’t on the website anywhere. No matter how much you search to find the price, all you get is a form to provide your name, address, phone number, and fax number, for some reason, not that they’re ever going to fax you anything.

It’s pretty obvious here that the plan is to have a salesman call you up and figure out how much you’re worth, and then charge you that much.

Which cracks me up. In our case, to briefly attempt a defense of our company, is that because we’re not selling a widget, and instead we’re providing a massive number-crunching, data-heavy process, our costs per customer are high, recurring, and very hugely by what they’re asking for.

It’s fine if you don’t take my word for it.

The fascinating problem I’ve been having is that there’s essentially no widely available information on how the industry does this. At Expedia, when I was working on the package path and trying to figure out if making something clearer was going to help, and how much it could help, there was all kinds of great research into ecommerce websites, case studies, and I could talk to people I knew who worked at other companies.

I have no idea. Let’s say our conversion rate in the trial is 0%. Or 50%. Or 97%. The only comparison point I have to go on is that it’s not as high as I want it to be. We have to build our own metrics, benchmarks, and methods as we go.

In absolutely delicious irony, I have been able to find a ton of information on enterprise trial paths, people with good advice, and ways other huge companies have made improvements selling expensive things to other huge companies.

At consulting companies, who want me to call them to talk about pricing.