Advice · From the workplace · Smart Thinking

Flow Charts

We had some very welcome house guests during half-term, Steve (an old work colleague and good friend), his wife and their two daughters. Steve and I worked together, on and off, for over seven years, until the middle of the last decade. We have seen many of the same things in the world of IT (or ICT, or just T). One of the things that we have long agreed on is how nobody reads flow charts, apart from people who create flow charts. Maybe there are some “Smart Thinking” books that tell you this, but it’s a fact of office life that people either don’t recognize or don’t mention. It’s time to come clean about it.

If you are the kind of person who spends hours creating detailed flow charts for your colleagues this might be unwelcome news, but you might already have your suspicions. The only people who study them and adhere to them are other people who create flow charts. Even if you’re the boss and you insist that other people follow them it might not be enough. Maybe there’s a personality type for this. Along with distinctions like “Introvert / Extrovert”, “Judger / Perceiver”, “Literal Speaker / Inferential Speaker” we could have “Flow Charter / Non-Flow Charter”.

Two years ago I was amused to see this distinction played out in a business meeting that could almost have been designed to teach this lesson. The manager of a small team had spent hours on Visio designing a flow chart to detail the steps that their work on a specific project might involve. He had emailed it as an attachment to all of the meeting attendees. I was an optional attendee, dealing with his team for different reasons, and turned up too. I had printed and studied the flow chart beforehand. It seemed only fair – I had witnessed some of the hours of concentration that went into it, and I wanted to test the theory. He dived straight in, assuming that his team had studied it too. Not one of them had. They hadn’t even printed out the attachment to bring along to the meeting. He looked despairingly round the room and said something along the lines of, “So I’ve spent hours bashing out this flow chart, I sent it to all of you, and not one of you has even looked at it?” There were many sheepish looks. I kept silent but maybe this was the perfect opportunity to share what some of us have known for years. There are two kinds of people in the world: those who create flow charts, and those who don’t. And those who don’t are never going to read them or care about them. You might as well ask an Introvert to become an Extrovert.




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