Do you…

    • Like colorful flow charts but hate the time it takes to make them?
    • Know good looking color schemes when you see them but have the artistic skills of a caveman?
    • Want a free and easy way to spruce up your Excel flow charts and process maps?

    Yeah, me too. So I created the Flow Chart Styles Cheat Sheet. It’s an Excel file that you can download and use to format your Excel flow charts. The file contains instructions on how you can easily apply the formats to your flow chart symbols using Excel’s Format Painter toolbar function.

    The current revision has a nice assortment of solid fill colors, gradient fill colors, and themes (i.e. groups of complimentary colors) based on the built-in themes for Excel’s Organization Chart tool. In a future revision, I plan to add a number of custom themes.

    If you have any artistic talent and would like to share, then I’d love to hear from you. If I like your designs, I’ll attribute your theme and back link to your site (if applicable) when the next revision is posted.

    Update: FlowBreeze 2.0 now has 84 built-in styles that emulate the Excel 2007 styles.

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Why would I want to make flowcharts?

This is a surprisingly common question I get asked ever since I started BreezeTree Software. To me it’s a no-brainer. I spent most of my career working on process improvement, and flowcharts and Pareto charts did most of the heavy lifting. There’s nothing like visualizing a process to help undercover the potential problems and waste within it. But they’re not limited to problem solving…

What about process documentation?

Even if you’re a small business (especially if you’re a small business!), documenting your processes can save you time and effort in the long run. If you find yourself asking, “how did I do this last time?” then you know it’s time to standardize your processes.

What about small business growth?

Do you ever plan on hiring more people for your business? Having a nice set of flowcharts clearly communicating your procedures will let you hand over the reigns with confidence. Your business is your baby, and flowcharts will help ensure that new hires do things “your way’.

What about programming?

“Dude, I haven’t done Fortran in ages.” I can hear you say. Actually, me neither, but flowcharts aren’t just used for procedural programming. They’re useful for mapping out the user interaction with your program. Flowcharting a user stepping through your UI to perform a specific task can be an eye opener for usability improvement.

But wait! There’s more. That’s why I wrote a little piece called The Top 5 Reasons to Use Flowcharts. As always… Enjoy!

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Sometimes you need a drawing shape that isn’t included in the standard Microsoft Office set of shapes. Maybe you need to add header blocks to all your process shapes. Maybe you need to need to add one of those little speed bumps to your flow lines to tell intersecting lines apart. Or, maybe you’d like to add a picture to a flowchart to improve clarity and communication.

All these methods and more are covered in the latest BreezeTree article – aptly titled How To Create Custom AutoShapes.

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When I read The E-Myth Revisited, I have to admit my first impression was “What a load of crap!” After all, it takes 200 pages to say what could be said in less than 10. I’m busy. I don’t have time for that.

Through analogies to the world of McDonald’s franchises and small bakeries alike, author Michael Gerber treads old ground about standardizing and optimizing your business processes. I’m no snobby process wonk, but the smell of old-school TQM Duh-ness, re-branded for entrepreneurs lingered in the air.

In the year since I read it, I’ve launched my first product and gone through the kind of metamorphosis that can only occur once you’ve become a business owner. You get deeply entrenched in what you’re doing, and it’s really hard at times to step back and look at the big picture.

That’s where the appreciation for The E-Myth Revisited comes in.

The E-Myth Revisited is like a piece of string tied around your finger to remind you to document your business processes. Once you have them documented, you can start to analyze them and see where they can be improved.

Little issues keep on popping up because I’m forgetting where I stored this file or that. I forget how I performed a certain task the time before and have to re-figure it out. And worst of all, last month I forgot to do one manual step in the release process that ended up costing me a lot of time and money.

Obviously, I needed to start E-Myth-ing my own dog food.

Now, I document practically everything I do. I just open up Excel and knock out a quick flowchart. I save the file to a designated directory then print out the flowchart. The flowchart goes into a 3-ring binder that contains all my business process information.

My goal? To be able to tell my wife, “If I die, everything you need to know to run BreezeTree Software is in that binder.”

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Flowchart Trigger

If you ever take a class that teaches formal flowcharting, they might teach you that all flowcharts start off with a Trigger Event. A Trigger Event is an action that gets the process started. A trigger event for an order processing flowchart could be “Customer places order”. A trigger even for a payment processing flowchart could be “Accounts Payable receives invoice”. And so forth.

Early in my career I had a TQM training instructor who emphasized that all flowcharts should start off with a trigger event like the one in the picture above. However, I learned to flowchart in procedural programming classes (Fortran, Pascal, and BASIC), and we always just started a flowchart with Start. So I never did catch on the the idea of Trigger Events.

Trigger events are a nice formating idea, though, so I’ve created a couple of flowcharts with them. The first time was in a work instruction for machine operators and the second time was in a product hold procedure for product managers and engineers. The reaction both times was the same: “Where’s the flowchart start?”

Flowcharts are used to clearly communicate process flows. A terminator symbol with a simple “Start” label is like a big welcome sign, whereas a trigger event is more like a puzzle for at least have your potential readers. So my advice is to forget about kicking off your flowcharts with a trigger event. Start it with a “Start” terminator and make your “trigger event” the first step after that.

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