Tag: Toolkit

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.


The New Manager Toolkit

Okay, it’s your first day as a new manager or executive and you are ready to prove yourself to your team, your office and to the world. Are you ready? Are you equipped for the job? What’s the plan?

[Click the Harsh Vinyl Record Needle Scratch Button Below]

If you thought that divine revelation was somehow going to intercede on the first day on the job, then I apologize for the abrupt awakening from your dreamy state and recommend you begin to take steps to determine how you as a new manager will function, operate and lead.

Such an elevation in role and responsibility, from employee to leader, can be exciting yet overwhelming. Perhaps managing a team is new to you, along with many other things, such as handling larger-scale projects, increased travel and delivering presentations. Making a smooth transition into your management role is easier when you equip yourself with the right tools. The resources below will help any rookie plan and manage like a skilled veteran.

The New Manager Toolkithttps://www.pexels.com/photo/conference-meeting-room-chairs-table-28756/

Like so many things in business, there are countless resources and tools that exist. These are simply the ones that are popular among our customers and associates. By no means is this list exhaustive and we encourage you to identify the tools that work best for you and your particular situation. And, we would welcome to hear from you regarding our tools and resources we have listed or about the ones that you have found helpful that ARE NOT listed.

As a side note, neither SmartDraw nor any of us who work here are compensated by any of these companies.

Leadership, Management & Team Training

logo-ftrDale Carnegie Training – One of the longest running and most successful personal development training centers. Managers, new and old, need learn and refine their skills. Dale Carnegie Training courses, webinars and resources span various areas from Leadership Development, Sales Effectiveness and Customer Service among others.

vistage logoVistage – A CEO and executive networking group, but also an information hub of valuable leadership and management thought leadership via their events, resources and blog. Network with leaders across an array of industries and learn from business professionals like you and the challenges they face every day.

Forums and Communities

slideshare-logo (1)SlideShare – An online community providing professionals to discover, share and present various corporate materials including PowerPoint presentations, videos, white papers, case studies, reports, collateral, infographics, documents and more.

manager-tools-iphoneManagerTools.com – An online community full of management tools, podcasts as well as live conferences, workshops and events for educational and networking purposes. There is also a plethora of workbooks and resources for managers looking to hire team members as well as for those managers looking to augment their interview skills and tips to expand the breadth of their resume should they be looking for a different management opportunity.

harvard-business-reviewHarvard Business Review – Business content from a world renowned brand name University like Harvard simply screams “valuable.” And the best part, one does not have to be affiliated to the University to be a subscriber.

amex_open_forumAmex Open Forum – Need a community that has a wealth of financial content? Well, this is the one for you. In this interactive forum, explore strategies ranging from pricing, financial growth to accounting and bookkeeping essentials.

 Mobile Apps

Expensify logoExpensify – This simple and easy-to-use app allows you the ability to track purchases in real-time, pool your electronic receipts, scan your paper receipts and create a comprehensive expense report in PDF while on the go. After all, who wants to take the time to do this manually once you are back from the trip?

camcard-logoCamCard – The data entry after an event or trade show use to always seem to take more time than the actual attendance of it. Now, just snap a picture of a newly acquired business card and sync it to your address book in seconds. A few dollars spent on this app will keep you focused on increasing your business network rather than spending hours in data entry.


ScannerPro – For professionals that are still working in a paper environment but wish to still keep it to a minimum – this app is perfect for you. You can scan documents from your phone, create PDFs, adjust image settings among more so you can keep filing space free, and accessibility nearby.


EvernoteLargeEvernote – Whether you are on the road or not, this free app is great for ensuring you quickly capture your latest random business idea either by voice, picture or text.

Laws & Regulations

legalzoom logoLegalZoom – Most of us have heard of LegalZoom by now, but if not, it’s the one stop-shop for those that are in need of basic legal forms that can be done for a considerably lower cost than hiring an attorney. It’s still good business practice to have a business attorney review any contract before you sign it, but LegalZoom can save you money in basic document preparation.


sba logoSmall Business Administration – Whether you work for a small business or not, the SBA has an array of helpful resources available and is a tremendous information hub regarding administration, regulation and governmental requirements, assistance and legislation.

Project Management, Presentations & Reports

SmartDraw-boxshotSmartDraw – For managers that need an agile system to handle process management, project management, team organization, Lean, PowerPoint presentations, meetings and reports, SmartDraw is the tool for you. Leverage the power of 70 different types of visuals, charts and diagrams like flowcharts, Gantt charts, mind maps, Kanban boards, org charts and more. SmartDraw’s automated easy-to-use diagrams will save you time and money on your all of your projects and presentations – big or small.

That’s our list. We know you will find all of these suggestions helpful to you as you embark in your newest management role.

Have some suggestions? What essentials would you add to this toolkit?

Lean Startup Toolkit

Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post that asked of the Lean Startup… is it the right strategy or fool’s gold?

For many of our customers and colleagues, the response has been overwhelming. For them, it’s clearly the right strategy; or at least worth trying.

If you’ve decided it’s time to take the plunge with a Lean Startup—whether a new business or product launch—you’re going to need a good set of tools to use. And in keeping with the Lean Startup philosophy, you don’t need to invest a king’s ransom for them.

The Essential Lean Startup Toolkit

While there are many good tools out there, these are the ones that are popular among our customers, associates, and co-workers. This isn’t an exclusive list, by any means. We encourage you to search for the tools that work best for you and your situation.

And just so you know, SmartDraw and those of us who work here aren’t being compensated by any of these companies. We’re just hoping to provide a Lean Startup Toolkit that you’ll find useful.


freshbooksFreshbooks. This cloud-based app lets you do important things—like sending invoices and getting paid!—quickly, at your desk or from your mobile device. They also have great video tutorials and an online get started guide. Oh, and a great blog. I love great blogs.


gosquaredGoSquared. We love stuff that’s easy to use without a training manual (like SmartDraw, for example). The GoSquared interface is really, really simple. Keeping track of your site analytics, measuring social interaction, and even fixing mistakes (such as broken links) is quick and easy.

Browser Testing:

browserstackBrowserStack. Avoid zombie nightmares. Test your virtual machines and devices across all desktop and mobile browsers. Test responsive design across mobile devices, too. Pricing models are suitable for anyone from a team of one all the way up to big-time enterprises.

Domain Registration:

hoverHover. Okay, I get that your edgy domain registrar runs titillating Super Bowl ads. But do you really want to pay them for that when all you really needs is a domain name, some email addresses, and to maybe do it while skipping all the annoying upselling? Hover gives you that, plus great online help resources and real human beings if you call.


shopifyShopify. Set up your online store. Design your store from a template (or create your own), add products, upload photos, and boom! You’re in e-business. Accept payments, set shipping options, even get tools to help with stuff like SEO, email marketing, and analytics.

Email Marketing:

mailchimpMailChimp. Maybe it’s Freddie the mascot. Whatever it is, MailChimp takes something that seems kind of bland and makes it kind of fun. And for your Lean Startup, you can get design templates and send up to 12K emails a month free, with nice upgrades for just a few peanuts.

Email Testing:

litmusLitmus. Checks the stuff you need to know before you send email. Like, how will it look across various email clients and on mobile devices? And because it won’t get read if it’s not in your customer’s inbox, Litmus spam tests it. Litmus offers analytics and integrates with MailChimp, too.


tenderTender. Your customers need help. Stay connected to them with Tender. Build customer support forums, create “echoes” to answer frequent questions with a personal touch, keep discussions focused and relevant with “queues.” Plans start at just $9/month.


linodeLinode. Get all geeky without nerd glasses. Virtual, cloud-based hosting lets you skip the costs of owning or leasing hardware. Hosting centers in the US, Europe and Asia Pacific give you versatility in choosing where your data resides. Plans from $20/month.

digital-oceanDigitalOcean. Get SSD cloud hosting with 55-second provisioning. Tier 1 bandwidth. Easy control panels allow you to create, resize, rebuild and snapshot with single clicks. Plus two-factor authentication for enhanced security. Great for startups with plans as low as $5/month.

Lean Diagrams, Project Management, Web Design, Etc.:

SmartDraw-boxshotSmartDraw. More than 70 different types of charts and diagrams help you design, plan, track, and communicate with powerful diagrams. Automated design is fast and easy to use. Having all of these tools in one saves a bundle over buying several applications individually.

Payment Gateways:

stripe-logoStripe. Hugely popular payment gateway among developers. Stripe checkout is a customizable payment flow that works across desktop and mobile platforms. Stripe also handles currency conversions—139 currencies with hassle-free security and compliance.

spaceboxSpaceBox. Stripe for non-developers. Do you sell subscriptions or collect ongoing payments like rent or membership fees? You need SpaceBox. Accept customer payments one-time or recurring basis. Membership sign-ups, account management, and billing are done for you. Cha-ching!


duo-securityDuoSecurity. Two-factor authentication platform to ensure security of your data. Easier than tokens. Ranked the #1 Highest Value Security Company by Box. Integrates with a wide range of devices and applications. Free trial and pricing as low as $1/user/month.

Source Control and Issue Tracking:

githubGitHub. Collaborate on software development online. Hosts code review and code management for both open source and private projects. Free accounts for public projects. Private accounts start at $7/month for personal plans and $25/month for organizations.

beanstalkBeanstalk. Another alternative for private code hosting for teams. Version control, access restriction, and anywhere-access from the web and mobile browsers make it popular with users. Freelancers can get a free single-user account with one private repository. Five-user plans just $15/month.

Hopefully, you’ll find these suggestions helpful. Do you have other resources you can’t live without? Let us know so we can add them to our Lean Startup Toolkit.

And happy launching!