14 Best Practices In Creating Flowcharts For Decision Making
Here is what a well structured flowchart using all the best practices looks like.
In this article, we share the best practices for creating flowcharts so that you can get the most out of your DeciZone navigable flowcharts.
Want to help your employees make quick decisions consistent with your policy? Want to help your customers troubleshoot your product? Wonder how to make it easy for people to follow your guidelines? Look no further - what you want is a decision tree or a flowchart. Creating a flowchart is not difficult, but building a effective flowchart that enables people to effortlessly make good decisions does take some practice and a good platform.
Enabling confident decisions is the one thing we strive for at DeciZone.com. We have helped in building many flowcharts for all sorts of use cases. While judging the quality of a flowchart can get subjective, there are some best practices that we have learned over the time that significantly improve the effectiveness of your flowcharts. In this article, we try to share those best practices so that you can get the most out of your DeciZone navigable flowcharts. The best practices recommended here are general in nature and are focused on creating flowcharts that help individuals make good decisions in a highly efficient manner.
Now let's break it down and point out individual best practices used in the above flowchart.
KISS, an acronym for "keep it simple, stupid", is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore, simplicity should be a key goal in design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. - Wikipedia
1. Use simple familiar language
This one is obvious, but it's amazing how many times we get carried away with our use cases and end up using complicated language. We recommend using very simple conversational language where you as the author of the flowchart are talking to your viewer in the same tone as if you were talking to them on a phone call. Keep the sentences and questions as short and simple as possible.
2. Use statement boxes wisely
A statement box is the most basic building block of a flowchart along with a decision box. Use a statement box to:
- explain something to the viewer,
- give more context by using multiple statement boxes,
- give permission to go ahead with something,
- reminding viewer to take a step,
- give a recommendation,
- give a final conclusion at the end of a branch,
- To use advanced features like adding a MCB or creating bookmark links.
A common mistake is to create a statement box with a question written inside. Please avoid doing this because your viewer only has an ‘OK’ response available for your statement box.
3. Use decision boxes wisely
A decision box should be used to divide the main flowchart branch into two branches. That means the decision box should:
- ask a short and simple question to allow the viewer to make one selection,
- make sure the answer to that question is a clear Yes or a clear No.
If you feel like you need to give more context for the decision, use a statement box before or after the decision box to give the additional information. This way when the viewer has reached your decision box, they are fully prepared to make that choice.
4. Using multiple choice box wisely
In most cases we recommend using simple Y/N decision boxes to ask for choices. It's easier for the viewer.
Generally speaking we recommend using simple Y/N decision boxes to ask for choices but there are cases when you will need to ask questions that don't fit inside a yes or no answer or you might need to give your viewers more than two choices. That is exactly what the Multiple Choice Box (MCB) does. MCB divides your main branch into multiple branches, one branch for each choice. So you can see how an MCB can add more complexity to your flowchart if you have more than a few choice-branches.
This is why we also recommend that if you have to use an MCB, use no more than one MCB in a flowchart. You can have more than one MCB in a flowchart but then managing your flowchart structure and the different versions may be a challenge going forward.
5. Statement box after every MCB choice
The choices you give to your viewers in a MCB are presented in a drop down list to the viewer and so we recommend that the MCB choices be a single or a couple of words at best. We recommend not to use a sentence for choice.
When you are creating the MCB in your flowchart you could add any type of box after your choice using the MCB edit tool. We highly recommend that you add a statement box immediately after each one of your MCB choices. Having a statement box after a MCB choice will help you maintain the flowcharts better and enable advanced features as discussed below.
Use a Statement box to bookmark either an MCB or its Choice-branches.
MCB box cannot be bookmarked so if you want to create a bookmark link with the MCB box as the destination, you will need to add a statement box immediately before the MCB box to create that bookmark link.
The MCB choices cannot be bookmarked, and so if you want to create a bookmark link to one of the choice-branches, then you will need to add a statement box immediately after the choice box and using that for a bookmark link destination.
6. Give mutually exclusive choices
People are more comfortable in selecting between two significantly different choices as opposed to two similar choices. Deciding between similar choices increases the cognitive load on your viewer. So whenever you can, we recommend giving choices that do not have much overlap.
Cognitive load refers to the total amount of information your brain's working memory can handle. Cognitive overload happens when your working memory receives more information than it can handle comfortably, leading to frustration and compromised decision-making.
7. Converge branches at common exits
When you're creating a flowchart it's very easy to end up with a flowchart structure that has a lot of branches. This could be a good thing overall because it may mean that you are handling many logical scenarios in your flowchart. It does mean that you have to manage all those branches individually unless you converge them at common exits.
Converging branches into a couple of common exit boxes makes it easy for you to maintain your flowchart logic.
Does that mean you create a statement box at the end of every branch? Depends but maybe not. If two or more branches are ending with the same recommendation (i.e. contact customer support), then you can use a bookmark link to converge these branches to a single box with that recommendation or conclusion. That way, in future you need to change only that one box to make minor changes to your recommendation language. Another advantage is that for that same recommendation, if you need to ask the viewer for some information input and then send email log, then by converging on one recommendation box will mean that you need to make your modifications to only one box. This approach helps you manage your flowchart logic easily.
8. Proper recommendation at branch-ends
We highly recommend that at the end of every branch you always add a statement box with a recommendation or a conclusion. Make sure that your recommendation or conclusion is stated in clear and simple language and that it directly addresses the main goal for that flowchart. In other words the viewer was looking for your recommendation/conclusion/opinion on the Goal (of your flowchart. Stating your recommendation clearly at the end of each branch rewards the viewer with an educated opinion.
9. Use Send-email-log box after User-input box
A user-input box is similar to a form input where you can ask the viewer to type in some information. You can chain multiple user-input boxes in the same branch if you need to get more information. The most important aspect of using user-input boxes is adding a Send-email-log box at the end of the branch. If by any chance you forget to add the Send-email-log box, then even if the user entered their information in the user-input log box, you will not receive that information in your activity log email.
Make sure to add a Send-email-log box at the end of all the branches after the user-input box.
There are a few common ways of leveraging the user-input box in the design of your flowchart. If you need to collect some information from everybody that interacts with your flowchart, you can use the user-input box at the beginning of your flowchart. You need to be careful with using the user-input box in the beginning of the flowchart because if you have any branch after that user-input box which does not end with a Send-email-log box, then you will not be able to get that user-input in your email when the user reaches the end of that branch.
If you need to collect the user's information only when certain criteria are met, then you can use the user-input box towards the end of those branches. Make sure to add a Send-email-log box at the end of all the branches after the user-input box.
10. Bookmark links between statement boxes
Bookmark links connect your current box (source) to an existing box (the destination). They are different from the regular connectors in the sense that the regular connector is created automatically at the time of creating a new box while a bookmark link uses a box that has already been created before.
Use Bookmark Links to connect one flowchart with another flowchart.
Bookmark links are very helpful when creating not so simple flowcharts. You can use a bookmark link to converge multiple branches of the flowchart into a single conclusion box as discussed earlier. That way you can use a single box more effectively and manage it easily going forward.
Bookmark links are also the only way you can connect one flowchart to the other flowchart to follow a modular flowchart structure. Make sure you carefully plan the modular structure of your flowcharts because each change will affect other interconnected flowchart modules also.
Make sure you always create bookmark links between two statement boxes.
While you can create bookmark links from most types of boxes, we highly recommend that you always create bookmark links between two statement boxes only. In other words, make sure the source box and the destination box for your bookmark link is a statement box always. If a statement box is not available on either end, we recommend you add a new statement box (with appropriate caption) to create this bookmark link between two statement boxes. This will help you maintain your logic much better going forward and give you more flexibility in using advanced features.
11. Keep the happy path short
Often your flowchart will end up having significantly more viewers on some branches compared to the other branches - in other words, one conclusion branch is more popular. Let's call the path from the start of the flowchart to the most popular conclusion as the ‘Happy Path’.
Reducing the number of boxes needed to reach the most frequent recommendations in your flowchart improves the overall experience of the viewer.
In some use cases we recommend that you redesign the flowchart and get the visitor to the most popular conclusion in as few boxes as possible. In other words make the happy path as short as possible. This way majority of your visitors will have the best experience because they will go through least number of boxes.
To make the happy path short, you may need to rearrange your boxes (mostly decision boxes) in a way that will right away filter out the visitors bound to the popular conclusion. In other words ask the most important/decisive questions first. This may sound counter intuitive at times (or an abrupt first question) but it may deliver better overall experience. This recommendation here may not be applicable in some use cases, so your mileage may vary. So make sure you carefully plan your flowchart structure from the beginning.
12. Use images, attachments & URLs for more context
A image is worth 1000 words. You can get a lot of additional context across by just adding an image of what you are describing. We recommend that to make your images even more effective, you edit your image and point out exactly what you want the viewer to see using red arrows or circles. That way the viewer is not guessing what you want them to see.
You can also attach a file to each box of your flowchart. This is very useful when you have to provide a certain document for the user to download.
There may be times where you might need to share an important website with the viewer on a particular box (i.e. Published article). Use the URL tool to add that specific website link to any box of your flowchart.
By adding images, attachments and URLs to your boxes, you are able to share just enough information with the visitor and exactly at the right step in your flowchart. We recommend using these features judiciously.
13. Flowchart Metadata
When you create a flowchart in DeciZone you are really creating a dynamic application that your viewers can access 24x7, using any connected browser, from any device and from anywhere in the world. That is why we highly recommend that at a minimum for each of your flowchart, you provide
- a descriptive name for your flowchart,
- a clear description for your flowchart,
- a few keywords which your viewers may use to search for your flowchart,
- an image that identifies with the flowchart’s purpose.
14. Continuous improvement
Often the first version of your flowchart is just the beginning of a learning cycle. You will learn new insights from people who use your flowchart and handle more and more criteria inside your flowchart. So we recommend that you treat your flowchart as a living document.
If your flowchart is inside a DeciZone Organization, then leverage the feedback feature. Any other team member in your organization can send box specific feedback to the author of the flowchart by using the feedback feature. The author gets all the steps you took up to that box and your feedback summarized in a email so they can continuously improve the flowcharts.
The advanced content management features in DeciZone allow you to create versions of your flowchart so you can work on a copy of the live flowchart and then hot swap the new version when its ready for prime time.
We are just scratching the surface of all the possibilities with navigable flowcharts. Team DeciZone regularly adds new features to the DeciZone platform and updates our blog articles with the latest best practices and insights that our customers can benefit from.
We would love your feedback about this and other blog articles. Thank you for being a DeciZone customer.