In the mainframe world, flowcharting is one of those things you hate to do, but is so necessary to give a user friendly view of a system. And I’ve tried them all–Word, Visio, PowerPoint, Dabbleboard, etc. They mostly achieve their aim–to put together a flow chart, but they all make it way too difficult to modify the chart after initial creation.
Let’s say you’ve got a simple drawing, where you have three boxes, representing three processes, connected with arrows, going from right to left, like so.
Now, you want to insert an “if” symbol between the first two boxes.
With Word, you have to select the three rightmost objects, Prog B, Prog C, and the arrow in between, then”group” them, and then you can drag the group to the right to make room for the new box. If you later decide you want to insert a new box between Prog B and Prog C, you have to un-group the group, and then group the Prog C and the arrrow, to move them around. What a pain.
In Visio, it’s a little easier, because you can simply draw a box around everything you want to move, and it automatically creates a group on the fly that you can move around. Easy enough for a simple diagram, but this creates a lot of clicking and drawing to make room inside a complex drawing.
Excel to the rescue
Surprisingly enough, the answer comes in a tool that I never would have guessed could be useful for flowcharting–MS Excel. Here’s an excellent article that shows how to do it.
And the best part is in how to make room for inserting new objects into the drawing. You simply drag your mouse over a partial row or column adjacent to where you want to add space, and insert new cells. The article referenced shows a nice diagram and full instructions on how to do it.
The elegance of this simple capability, for me, overrides the abundance of advanced capabilities in say, Visio. And, you can even link one flowchart to another, using tabs, with a hyperlink to another tab.
Easy text boxes
And another bonus. In other programs, like Word and Visio, in order to insert a text box, you have to go through a series of steps to define the text box. With Excel, you just select a cell and start typing. How easy is that?
These two features, combined with the other basic tools that Excel gives you for flowcharting, make it my tool of choice from now on. Even outside the mainframe world.