Tag: Communication

Eating My Own Dog food

Why it took me ten years to use my own product to draw a flowchart

I wrote the first version of SmartDraw in 1994 and I’ve been the sole author, or one of the small team of authors, on every version since. Yet I only began to use my own product to help me think through designs by drawing flowcharts since 2007. Why? There were three obstacles to overcome, but first let me explain why I use flowcharts at all.

How I use flowcharts in software design

If I have to design a solution to a reasonably complex problem, I use a flowchart to help me think through all of the cases my code is going to have to deal with. For example, when I designed the multiple page feature of SmartDraw Cloud, I had to think through how the usual mechanism for loading and saving a one page document would be modified to handle a document with multiple “one-page” documents stored in it: How navigating between pages would work, when changes had been made to the page (or not) and so on.

Creating a flowchart of the steps and cases helps me understand the issues before I start coding and this is the main reason I use it, but it also creates documentation that can be used later to understand what the code I wrote is trying to do (often by me).  You can look at my flowchart by clicking on the preview below.


This is the real one I did at the time. No cosmetic or grammatical clean up has been applied. [We try for authenticity here at SmartDraw].

However this only works if I can create the flowchart at the speed of thought. If I have to futz around trying to get my ideas into a diagram, it slows me down and it’s not worth the effort.  This brings us back to the three obstacles that I had to overcome to make this workable.

Obstacle 1: Drawing Flowcharts is a Pain!

Before 2007 drawing a flowchart with SmartDraw was pretty much the same process as drawing one with MacDraw, Visio or any of the other programs used to draw diagrams: You drag shapes onto the page and join them up with lines. Rearranging the shapes and the flow as your mental model evolved was tedious and slow. Trying to use a diagram to help you think made it harder not easier.

What changed this was SmartDraw’s introduction of automatic formatting. With automatic formatting I could drag shapes around to new locations, add new ones and delete them and SmartDraw did all the work of reformatting the flowchart. I could finally draw and think at the same speed.

Obstacle 2: Flowcharts are incomprehensible.

Flowcharts are often literally a joke. Take a look at this one:


The culprit is this innocent looking symbol:


The decision symbol is a diamond and is used to direct the flow from a decision in perpendicular directions. This is how flowcharts quickly end up as spaghetti messes. Imagine if you wrote text this way: I’m reading the instruction and then suddenly I have to turn the page on its side!

The way to fix this and make your flowcharts useful to you and your audience is to:

  1. draw them from left to right like you do when you write text, and
  2. use a fork in the road to indicate a decision


A fork in the road (or a split path) lets you see results of the decision, without looking in perpendicular directions. Later decisions make additional forks.


This is much more readable, so why is the perpendicular flow of the traditional decision symbol so popular? Because of obstacle number three.

Obstacle 3: The tyranny of the printed page.

The reason why flowcharts use perpendicular flow is so that they will more easily fit on a printed page. Flowcharts date from 1921 when they were used to document processes. They were drawn by hand onto a piece of paper using a stencil.

We are way beyond this now. (Although I think it’s telling that Visio still calls its shape libraries “stencils”). There is no need to print my design flowcharts. Ever! This gives me the freedom to draw them for readability and clarity without worrying how they will fit onto a page.

Until recently, when I wanted to share my diagram with my co-authors, I’d store it in a common location and send them a link. They’d view in it in SmartDraw.  Now I use SmartDraw Cloud and just send them a link.

In 2016 there is no need to even consider sacrificing clarity to make your diagram easy to print. Just don’t print them! Share them.

Flowcharts can help you think and communicate

Once you can draw as fast as you can think, and you can create easy to follow flowcharts by abandoning the decision symbol, flowcharts can be a great tool for helping you design algorithms. Sharing them with a link also makes them an effective vehicle for communicating with your co-workers.


5 Reasons Why You Should Determine Your Business’ Customer Satisfaction Rate

According to Michael Gerber, author of The E-Myth, “ . . . the customer you’ve got is a lot less expensive to sell to than the one you don’t have yet.”  It’s a no brainer – satisfied customers lead to loyal customers which means more business. Boom. End of article. But businesses and the people that run them are all inherently different. Therefore, customer satisfaction is important to each business differently.


Have you determined the customer satisfaction rate for your business and how it has impacted it? If not, here are reasons why you should.

REASON #1 Customer satisfaction maximizes your marketing budget, by optimizing it

All businesses spend tons of money marketing their products and services to win new customers every day. From small “Mom and Pop” restaurants to large technology corporations. But if your customer satisfaction level is low, those customers may not return. However, as mentioned in the opening of this article the more satisfied your customers are with your products and services the more likely they will return again and refer others as well. When that happens, your marketing dollar is now stretched and optimized producing incremental business. Determining how satisfied your customers are may potentially lead to more business without actually spending more on marketing but rather making a concerted effort to keep the customers you have already originated because of it.

REASON #2 Customer satisfaction is your point of differentiation

Free market enterprise exists to produce competition in a variety of ways. So in essence, there are always options for customers to select which business they purchase from for their needs. Customer satisfaction, like anything else, quite often is the reason people select one business over another.

Take Apple for example. Apple, especially under the direction of Steve Jobs and his successor Tim Cook, has always aimed to create high-quality products and experiences with them. And as such they have a large fan base of product champions that continually grows each year. For years, Apple placed a premium on meeting and exceeding expectations of their customers that has led them to surpass technology giants like Microsoft and become the largest technology company in the world.

REASON #3 Customer satisfaction shores up operational issues and inefficiencies

Let me ask you a question – if you discovered that your customer satisfaction rate with your business was lower than expected, what would you do? Wouldn’t you look at doing business differently?

Change can often be a frightening word to people and especially those in business. But in this case, change can be a tremendous benefit. Your discovery leads to an opportunity to change operationally the things that are inefficient. New processes. New projects. And a tremendous chance to improve the overall quality of your products, services, and the rate of satisfaction your customers have for them.

REASON #4 Customer satisfaction spurs new ideas

Similar to the above bullet, knowing your customer satisfaction rate and its impact can lead to ideas that are with the customer in mind first and foremost. Apple is tremendous at this. They are quite keyed into making their products appealing, hip, fun, user friendly and simple. Customer satisfaction is at the core of what they do, and they’re notorious for not inventing new gadgets but reinventing ones already adopted and making them exponentially better. MP3 players existed before the iPod, but the iPod transformed the digital music industry. The iPhone? Same story. Apple makes the most popular personal technology products because their products are so engaging, and so customer-centric that their fans have no reason to buy such items from the competition.

REASON #5 Customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction are interwoven

When you work for a company that puts people at the center of its purpose, inevitably satisfaction levels remain high. Customers ultimately buy the feelings the products and services provide them. And employees perform with passion when they feel validated, challenged and involved. It’s a natural yin and yang.

Employees treated fairly and with a stakeholder mindset build better products and services. The customers that buy those products ultimately feel happy and satisfied about their decision to buy. And those same customers are more likely to do it again and share their experience with others. The positive mojo transfers from employees to customers and back again.

Tips for Effective Communication in the Workplace


Communication is hugely important, we are constantly communicating, whether we realize it or not. It can also be one of the trickiest things to maneuver. Communication is said to be 30% verbal (words & tone) and 70% body language. This makes it even harder to navigate in today’s world of email, text and phone calls. So what can we do, specifically in the workplace, to be as effective as possible with our communication? The mind map below shows some key factors:


Understanding & Minimizing Barriers

There are many communication barriers that we each face on a daily basis, they can vary from things like language to location. We are not always so fortunate to be in communication with someone who speaks our same language, so what do we do? Taking advantage of email and the internet, we can use one of many translation tools at our disposal.

  • Google Translate: Free & convenient. This tool not only gives you the option to choose from over 80 languages, it also gives you the option to “detect language” in case you are not 100% sure which language you are dealing with!
  • BabelFish: Free service, 15 languages. BabelFish also gives you a list of “Most Popular” translations.
  • FreeTranslation.com:  As stated in the name, another free tool providing you with 35 languages for translation. This services gives you the ability to upload a document, such as a Word Doc or PDF for easy translation.

If you are working close with international clients or colleagues it is absolutely necessary to know what day/time it is where they are located so you don’t call their cell phone at 3am on a Saturday! Of course you can always google “current time in (X-location)” but if you are dealing with multiple people in multiple locations & time zones that becomes hard to organize. Timeanddate.com is a wonderful resource to organize meeting or call times.  Their “International Meeting Planner” in their “Time Zones” section allows you to enter your time zone and up to 11 other locations a date and it will generate a table showing you every hour of the day, making it easy to find a time that suits everyone.

Be Clear & Concise

This not only saves you time, but saves the recipient times as well.  There is nothing worse than getting an email that is 3 pages long. Unless each sentence of that 3 pages is filled with vitally important information, it is a safe bet that nobody is going to read it and furthermore, they will be less likely to take you future email seriously. Show people that you respect their time and cut to the chase.  Which ties me into my next point, use visuals whenever possible! This not only ensures that you are only conveying essential information, it also make that information easier to digest. Sending out sales data in text form is boring and makes the information difficult to retain.  Visually representing the data makes the reader more engaged and takes less to interpret.

text numbers

Monthly Sales ChartThe visual representation is not only more interesting to look at, easier to understand but extremely simple to create.

Leave Emotions Out of It

Especially when it comes to email, text or any type of nonverbal communication. It is so easy for an email to be misunderstood, its always best to attempt to give your email a positive tone so that there is no confusion. Negative emotions like: anger, disappointment, resentment etc. can quickly spread like a disease through the work place. When your negative emotions show through your communications, this can not only bring down people around you, it can make you look bad and even isolate you.

Try some of these simple tips to avoid a workplace meltdown:

  • Do not yell, or TYPE IN ALL CAPS! – being aggressive will only escalate the situation, which is exactly what you want to avoid. It is a better idea to speak as calmly as possible, which will not just calm you down but also start to diffuse the situation.
  • Confirm your understanding– sometimes we get so inside our own heads and what we thought we heard is not what was said at all, or… maybe it is. Either way, confirming that you are fully understanding what is being said is a good place to start, if you do not agree give a possible new path forward and hopefully you can find some common ground.
  • Be Positive-  bottom line is “it takes two to tango” if you don’t feed in and you stay positive, there will be no argument.

When you feel those emotions coming, take a deep breath and smile on, you can vent after work!

5 Secrets for Negotiating Successfully

The word “negotiation” can conjure up negative images of conflict and struggle. But successful negotiation is about discussion aimed at reaching an agreement.

http://picography.co/photos/put-em-up/An adept negotiator uses skillful techniques to reach a deal without aggression. While negotiation skills can require some practice, becoming a good negotiator is within reach. It just requires following some basic guidelines that focus on the ultimate goal: successfully reaching an agreement acceptable to both parties.

Here are five tips for negotiating successfully.


Before entering into a negotiation, arm yourself with factual information. Get as much information as you can that is relevant to the subject of negotiations. This also involves asking yourself a series of tough questions. Why do you want to do this deal? Why does the other side want to do it? What’s in it for everyone? Then work to get information that benefits not only your position, but theirs, as well. Having facts on your side gives you a position of strength and instills confidence.


Great negotiators know what they want before entering into a discussion. Better yet, they know what they won’t accept. Most, if not all successful negotiators say that they have a “walk-away” point. If you aren’t willing to walk away, then you’re potentially setting yourself up to make a bad deal.

Also, know going in that you aren’t going to win every point. Decide in advance what parts are important and what parts you’re willing to concede.

And never, ever concede beyond your “walk-away” point. Losing a bad deal is always preferable to making one.


Too frequently, people think of a negotiation as a zero-sum game. This means that one party wins and one loses. Successful negotiators see a negotiation as an opportunity for both sides to win. Author Jeff Weiss refers to this as “negotiating to interests.” For example, in a salary negotiation, the employee wants a higher amount than what is offered, but the salary isn’t flexible for the employer. Seeking creative solutions to fill the gap is a way to create a “win-win” scenario. Perhaps the company can offer the employee flexible work hours, daycare reimbursement, or graduate school tuition that don’t cost it much but are of tremendous value to the employee.


Research data provides an interesting revelation about negotiations. Many times, a negotiation breaks down because one party feels that the other wasn’t treating them fairly.  What does this mean, exactly? In most cases, it means emotions and ego overcame rational discussion. Pounding on the table and giving an ultimatum may make for great theater in a movie or stage play. But in real life, these things rarely get deals done. Keep a cool head, be respectful, and treat the other people at the table the way you want to be treated. These things will go a long way toward not only getting this deal done, but giving you a reputation as a fair dealer when the next negotiation comes along.

All of the brilliant planning, strategy, and tactics employed by the most skillful negotiator are meaningless without an agreement. This can often happen when the other side just can’t get to a decision. Indecision can come from many places, but as a negotiator, you should be prepared for it in advance. Make the decision part of the negotiation, and do it early in the process. Set a timeline, discuss the criteria, map out the hurdles that might delay getting a final agreement approved and implemented.


A mind map is an ideal tool to use for managing a negotiation. You can use it to brainstorm your plan in advance, and also for tracking progress. You can also use the timeline feature to set milestones and create deadlines.

5 Email Tips That Will Transform How You Communicate

Purchased Image

Do you ever feel that emailing is all that you do?  What if you could cut the amount of time you spend emailing colleagues and customers?  The truth is you can, by communicating visually.  You already create visuals with SmartDraw. Why not communicate visually in emails?  We have 5 email types that can easily be sent using a diagram instead of writing a full blown email.

Email Any Diagram With Just One-Click!

Before taking a look at the types of emails a diagram can essentially replace, it’s important to know how easy it is to email a diagram.  Once you’ve saved your diagram, simply navigate to the top left-hand corner of SmartDraw and click the Send Quick Access Control (envelope icon).

send email control

With just one-click, SmartDraw will automatically enter the name of the file in the Subject Line, embed the visual in the body of the email, and attach the source file.  Now your colleagues or clients will see the diagram in the body of the email as well as have the source file.  If you’re requesting feedback, the recipient can open the source file, make edits, and email it back to you or the team.

Email Type #1: Who Am I Working With?

Solution: Use the Org Chart Template and Add Hyperlink or Attachment Feature

Working in virtual teams is used more and more by companies in an effort to cut travel, relocation, real estate, and other business costs.  Yet, there is one critical difference in the way teams communicate.  In place of the dynamics of in-person exchange, they rely on virtual meetings and emails.   Project managers and leads working in virtual teams must resort to providing email introduction amongst newly assigned project team members.  In this example, several mid to senior management level team members have been assigned to a new Task Force.

project assignment org chart0

project assignment org chart1

SmartDraw Tip: To inform the members of the project team as to what role they have been assigned, you can simply change the job title to their respective project role.  To change the color of a shape, simply select the shape and navigate to the Home Ribbon’s Fill menu.  Select the appropriate color.  To add an effect, such as a glow to the shape, navigate to the Home Ribbon’s Effects menu and select the appropriate option.

project assignment org chart2

SmartDraw Tip: You have the ability to associate any website to any diagram.  Right+click on the object in the diagram, select Add Hyperlink.  Enter the Url Address in the field provided. Click OK. The link icon will appear in the bottom right corner of the object.  In addition, you have the option to also associate a file to any object in a diagram.  Right+click on the object in the diagram, select Add Attachment.  Locate the file on your computer. Click Open.  The attachment icon will appear in the bottom right corner of the object.

Email Type #2: Who’s Doing What, When, and How Long?

Solution: Use the Flowchart Template

Whether you’re working with colleagues or clients, it’s always good to ensure that everyone’s on the same page.  In this flowchart, I am not only informing the client of the process but the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.  This simple 5 step flowchart indicates the roles of the end users, subject matter expert, instructor, and co-facilitator.  In addition, it provides the approximate amount of time spent. This diagram can easily be sent to colleagues or clients with a request to confirm if this meets their expectations.

delivery of training process

Email Type #3: What Are My Options?

Solution: Use the Mind Map Template and Table Feature

Scheduling can be a challenge, especially if you are working with individuals in a different time zone.  Here’s an example of how to provide your clients potential dates and times of when you and the project team are available.  Since each date and time is assigned an option name (i.e. Option A, Option B), the recipient only need to respond with the name of the option.


Email Type #4: Where Are We in the Process?

Solution: Use the Flowchart Template and Effects Feature

There are moving parts to every project.  The more individuals involved, the more challenging it can be to ensure that everyone understands the process.  Not only does this diagram provide an overview of the entire process, it also highlights the stage that we are currently in.  If this were to be sent to a client, they would in turn realize that there are several steps before the training they have purchased can be delivered.  In short, this diagram can be used to create a sense of urgency for your recipients.  All in all, it provides transparency to everyone involved.

TMC Working with SmartDraw Professional Services1

 Email Type #5: Where Can I Find It?

Solution: Use the Mind Map Template to Create a Resource Hub

Ensuring that everyone in a department or project team knows where everything is is a challenge in itself.  Whether the resources you have developed are housed in one or more locations, you can easily create a resource hub using the mind map template.  Whenever a colleagues inquires about information, you can simply email then the resource hub that contains live links to the materials.  It’s also ideal for on-boarding new hires.

IT Resource Hub

Are You a Visual Thinker?

Whether or not you know it, you’re probably a visual thinker. Most of us are.

More importantly, most people with whom we interact on a daily basis are also visual thinkers. So communicating visually offers a significant advantage for those who do so.

In psychology, visual thinking is that which results from perceiving or processing visual stimuli, forms, or patterns. Or in layman’s terms, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Using visuals makes information easier to convey, process, and remember.

But what does this mean to you? Let’s take a look at some examples to determine whether you are a visual thinker.

Visual Thinker Example No. 1. Visualizing  Instructions

Which of the following do you find easier. Directions given verbally (or written down) or shown on a map?

Q. Can you tell me how to get from the Broadway-Lafayette Station to the Ukrainian Museum, with a quick stop for coffee at The Bean?

A. Sure. From the station, you want to go east on Houston Street across Bowery, then take a left on Second Avenue. You’ll go about three blocks to The Bean. Then, to get to the Ukrainian Museum, you’ll want to continue north on Second to Sixth Street, then go left. The museum will be about mid-block between Second and Third, on the right.

Or you could use a map, which lets you “see” where you are and where you want to go.


Visual Thinker Example No. 2. Visualizing Concepts

A new house is built on an empty, graded lot. Few of us are gifted with the artistic or creative skill to look at it and imagine an attractive landscape. Even if the landscape designer meets us on site and gives us this description:

I see an inverted “V” shaped walk path to the front porch, with some large stones, Japanese maples and shrubs in the path divide. We’ll use freeform turf along each side of the path and wrapping around the sides of the house. A variety of trees and shrubs will be placed along the front of the house—inkberry, fatsia, summersweet. Along the perimeter of the site we’ll incorporate larger trees such as abelia, goldenrain, and tea olives. Off the dining area we’ll do a patio with a pergola.

Or do you find it easier to visualize the finished product with a landscape plan, such as this?


Visual Thinker Example No. 3. Visualizing a Process

Have you ever tried to explain something to someone, then in the middle of the instruction, stopped to look for a pencil and paper so you could draw a picture or diagram to make it clearer? Here’s an example of a process that might need to be explained to a new employee at work.

When you receive a report request, first submit it to engineering. The engineer will run a database query and produce a report. You’ll need to review and validate the report. If it needs refining, send it back to the engineer. Don’t accept it until it meets all of the requirements. Once it’s acceptable, you can send it back to the person who requested it for presentation to management.

Or you could hand them a workflow diagram, like this.


Visual Thinker Example No. 4. Visualizing Data

It’s easier to process and remember information when it’s presented in visual format. An infographic is a great way to show important information in a memorable way. Let’s look at some statistics about changes in oil production and consumption, for example. First, let’s use a table.


Now look at the same data, along with other related information, presented visually in an infographic.


Without getting into a discussion about the data and trends, which of these presents the same information in a way that’s easier to digest and remember?

Just for Fun – Visual Thinking Puzzles

You’ve probably seen some version of these puzzles before. This one came from an article written by Marcel Danesi, Ph.D. in an article published in Psychology Today. It’s an interesting read. These puzzles challenge us with “whole-part” thinking. Take a look. How many rectangles and triangles do you see?

Triangle-puzzleAs Professor Danesi points out, these can be frustrating, because it’s not uncommon to come up with a different answer each time you count the smaller pieces of each diagram. These types of puzzles challenge us to look past the obvious, to avoid “not seeing the forest for the trees.”

I’ve included these puzzles to illustrate an important point. A visual isn’t necessarily just a picture. It’s a form of communication that may take many shapes. A visual thinker doesn’t just look at a picture. He or she processes the information contained within it.

But regardless of the form it takes, the visual is a powerfully effective way to communicate almost any kind of information.  Fortunately, today’s technology allows anyone to easily communicate using a wide variety of visuals.

(For the answers to the above puzzles, see Professor Danesi’s article.)

So, Are You a Visual Thinker?

This article is just an illustration, not a scientific test. But chances are you and those around you think and learn visually. Using even simple visuals will enhance the clarity and effectiveness of information you communicate.

Using visuals also makes communicating information more interesting and enjoyable.

“Bright Idea” image created by Nevit Dilmen. Used under creative commons license through Wikimedia Commons.

Infographic: Why Visuals Communicate Better than Words

https://www.pexels.com/photo/marketing-man-person-communication-362/Here at SmartDraw, we’ve been saying it (and practicing it) for years. To reach your audience more efficiently and effectively, visuals communicate better than words.

This isn’t just an opinion. Take a look at some facts:

  • Your brain processes visuals 60,000 x faster than text.
  • Photos on Facebook generate more “likes” and “shares” than text, video or links.
  • New and different information is easier to remember when it is presented visually, rather than in text format.
  • Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal.
  • Sixty percent of people are visual learners.
  • Publishers who use infographics realize an increase in traffic of 12% over those who don’t.
  • Pinterest generated more referral traffic for business than Twitter, Google+, YouTube and LinkedIn combined.

Maybe this infographic says it more efficiently and effectively than the above text. Do visuals communicate better than words? You decide.