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Analysis and Design Tools: Analysis Definition and Flow Charts Introduction

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  • 0:05 What Is the Program…
  • 1:16 Mapping the Process
  • 2:05 Flowcharts
  • 2:40 Analyzing a Simple Process
  • 5:02 Analysis for Foober's…
  • 6:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lee Webber

Lee holds a master's degree in Information Systems Management. He has taught college-level computer classes.

Now that the requirements are pretty well known, you can start analyzing how you are going to write your code. One of the first steps is to model the activities involved. A useful tool for this is a flowchart, which is what we will look at in this lesson. At the end, you will have good basic knowledge of how to create simple flowcharts.

Program Writing Begins With Analysis

Before you start writing a program, you have to understand what it's supposed to do. That usually means understanding something about the 'real world' and how it works. That something is often referred to as a 'process' or 'business rules.' In order to understand the process, programmers do something called 'analysis.' Analysis is defined as breaking something down into its inter-related components in order to understand it. The object of the analysis can be raw data, a business process, or learning how to program.

When I wrote the code for the pancake making demonstration we did for Fred, the owner of the Pancake House, I had to understand how to make pancakes before I could teach my robot, Foober, how to do it. My mom taught me how to make pancakes when I was a kid, so it was fairly easy. But, I had to analyze the process from the point of view of a programmer, not as a cook, in order for my program to work. And, analysis is the key to writing good, useful code.

Mapping the Process

In the first lesson, I wrote out a list of things that Foober would have to know in order to become a competent grill-bot. That was the starting point for my analysis. It was really just a shopping list of skills and knowledge.

For the program I'm writing for Foober, the future Pancake House grill-bot, the list is a bit different:

  • How to make each kind of pancake
  • What a griddle is
  • Where everything is
  • How to tell when the griddle is hot enough
  • How to tell when to flip the pancakes
  • How to flip the pancakes
  • How to tell when to take them off the griddle
  • How to plate pancakes
  • How to garnish the dishes

But, it's still just a list. What I need to do is start mapping out the exact steps Fred's robot needs to do. One tool you can use for this is a flow chart.

Flowcharts

Flowcharts were originally developed so programmers could map out the steps their programs needed to take to accomplish the programmed task. It turns out that they are also useful for mapping out real-world processes.

There are a relatively large number of flowchart symbols, but five of them are the most commonly used:

These symbols are used the most when creating flowcharts.
Flowchart Symbols

Analyzing a Simple Process

Let's use a flowchart to analyze a simple process - opening birthday presents. The rule when I grew up was simple: I could open my presents only on my birthday. So, each morning for about a week before my actual birthday, the first thing that popped into my head when I woke up was, 'Is it my birthday?' When I could answer 'yes,' then I could open my presents.

So, let's see how we could flow chart that process:

The process starts when I wake up. At some point before I'm out of bed, I ask myself, 'Is it my birthday?' The decision (diamond) symbol shows that we are testing a condition to see if it is true or false. In this example, we are looking to see if the answer to the question, 'Is it my birthday' is yes ('true') or no ('false'). That answer will determine what I do next.

If the answer is 'no,' I follow the path on the left, go to 'stop' and get up. But, if the answer to the question, 'Is it my birthday?' is 'yes,' I go straight down to the 'open present' activity (woo-hoo!). Once I have opened my present, I go down to 'stop' because I am done.

This flowchart diagrams the steps in the birthday example.
Simple Process Flow Chart Example

'But wait' you say. 'What happens when you get more that one birthday present?' I'm glad you asked. What we have done so far is document the simplest case. We walked through it and are pretty confident that we got it right. So now, we are ready to move on to a more complex situation! You'll notice that this chart has many similarities to the first one:

This flowchart diagrams the steps in the example with more than one present.
more than one present flowchart

I start at 'start,' and move down to the decision. If it is not my birthday, I follow the left path down to 'stop,' just as before. If it is my birthday, I open a present. The big change in this flowchart is after I open a present. Instead of dropping down to stop, I now look to see if there are any more presents. If there are, I loop back up to the open present box, and open another present. Finally, when there are no more presents, I stop because, well, there are no more presents.

Analysis for the Demonstration

You may remember that, using some information I gathered earlier, I had worked on some analysis for the first go-round on my prototype using Foober. You may remember that I had worked on some analysis for the first go-round of the pancake-making demonstration.

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