Frank J. Borkowski

You’ve probably seen “flowcharts” or “process maps” — drawings that use shapes such as rectangles, diamonds, and ovals to represent a physical process. A “process” is a series of steps used to convert “inputs,” e.g., materials, methods, office help, and tools into “outputs” such as delivering a defect-free project.

Correctly drawn, anyone, with little additional information, should be able to follow the flowchart from beginning to end and wind up with a reasonably good (and consistent) result.

Using basic shapes in a word processor spreadsheet could do the trick but is slow and frustrating. Dedicated technical drawing software, such as SmartDraw, Microsoft Visio, or Proquis AllClear, is relatively expensive. Here are some alternatives:

All except Dia are Web-based and let you create flowcharts and other technical diagrams using only a Web browser. Dia, which installs like any software, has the advantage of being usable when you’re offline. Gliffy, LucidChart, and have collaboration and sharing features. (LucidChart also allows you to create a wide range of technical diagrams and supports Visio import.)
Dia,, Gliffy, and LucidChart require you to drag and drop shapes and connectors from a library onto your drawing screen.

If you’d rather automate the process and are comfortable using Microsoft Excel, you’ll love FlowBreeze ($40 to $60 depending on features), an Excel add-in that converts text typed into spreadsheet cells into a decent flowchart. The website also has good tutorials, templates, and examples you can use, even with other software.

—Joe Stoddard is an industry consultant helping remodelers be successful with their technology.;