flow charts or narratives?? 2016

  • I would like to poll this forum to see what is the preferred approach for IT processes to be documented: process flows or narratives?
    I have found that process flows are easier to reflect the IT processes than to write them in the narrative format (similar to an SOP). However, I have been told by someone that process flows seem to be such an old way of dealing with IT processes.
    While I know it is a preference and it all depends on who the external auditors are, I am just curious to know what is widely adapted by the SOX professionals out there. Your responses will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks in advance.

  • Hi,
    My answer is: both. I have been involved in about 10 different SOX projects and in all of them, with one exception, we have used Word for the narratives and Visio or Excel for flow charts. In the odd project we were from the start told to produce Word documens as well as flow charts but due to time issues we were told that the auditors could accept Word narratives as a preliminary solution but as soon as possible they wanted us to produce flow charts as well.

  • There is no choice - we need both.
    Narrative - the detailed description
    Process Flow - the visual aid. It is important to visualize the process as we will be able to understand (and explain) better what is happening

  • I agree with lekatis and balder. Even in practice (college) we were always asked to do both.
    I see doing both as an advantage because depending on your audience, a narrative might suite an individual better while in other cases a diagram may be more beneficial.
    It’s safer and more encompassing to have both.

  • Yep, need a ‘both’ option.
    You need the picture to set the scene and pronmote understanding, but you need the words to provide sufficient detail.

  • We made flowcharts optional. They do add value - when properly developed. It is more of an art than a science to prepare a meaningful flowchart. There is also the cost of the software. Visio is not cheap and to properly use it, we would need for each process owner to have a copy and to be properly trained in it’s use. We didn’t see that as value-added for our business.

  • Both also from me, as I agree with all of the other comments. It’s also part of our standard document, and we also use Excel to store documentation in tabular form in many cases.
    I voted for Narratives over the flowchart in the poll, as I’d rather have a good detailed description to draw the flowchart from if it were missing 😉 🙂

  • Visio is not cheap and to properly use it, we would need for each process owner to have a copy and to be properly trained in it’s use. We didn’t see that as value-added for our business.
    kymike shares a good point. If you use Visio, it’s almost mandatory to be on the 2003 version, (as authors using V/2003 don’t save in the older formats). There are also some good alternative products, although when you deviate too much from mainstream software than external auditors and others can’t read the documentation elements when needed.
    We often use Office product family viewers and readers to offset costs. This link might have some ideas on cost savings.
    Visio Viewers and Readers - can save some costs
    google.com/search?hl=en-and-q=visio reader

  • We have to convert process flow charts in Visio into PDF frequently as most of the people don’t use visio at all.
    The process flow charts are a great visual aid but they can’t capture the details like a narrative does. Capturing every little detail specially like who’s responsible for what, what are the exceptions allowed etc makes the flowchart too complex. But you can’t wordsmith a process flowchart and that’s why I have personal liking for them over the narrative.
    I would thus agree on both. Also I would like to hear (From IT Folks) how they have developed process flowcharts for processes like Access and computer operations when heterogeneous applications and platforms are involved. We had tough time capturing these processes neatly in a single flowchart (like program development).

  • To add further value, I believe that a process flow and a narrative support each other.
    Process Flow Benefits:
    Easily identifiable key controls;
    prepared properly, the swim lanes help to establish accountability and ownership;
    simple to understand and follow and the individual action steps are not buried in the text;
    require little maintenance with minor changes in the procedures;
    can cross-reference the process flow to the RC matrix;
    somewhat easy to leverage existing process flows and tailor to the process;
    Process Narrative Benefits:
    Provides a more detailed discussion of the processes, control activities, and answers the 5w’s;
    Word 2003 is easier to use than Visio for most people;
    Visio licenUSDes;
    well-designed Word templates can reduce development time and establish consistency in the IT process documentation;
    one need not understand process flow symbols (if used).
    Allclear is a good tool that can be used to significantly reduce the time required to develop process flows from process narratives.
    In short, the tool works like this:

    1. Create process steps in numerical order.
    2. Press ‘Draw’
    3. Application logic draws the boxes, connects the lines, assigns the shapes, etc.
      Generally, I prefer simple tools (Office), create process flows only in PowerPoint, but the tool mentioned above might be worth further consideration.

  • We also use powerpoint for flowcharts. Visio is a better tool but our flowcharts tend to be pretty simple and we don’t need to roll out visio to all users.

  • We have to convert process flow charts in Visio into PDF frequently as most of the people don’t use visio at all
    As you get practical ideas from others in technical or business forums, I truly like this one 🙂

    1. PDFs offer wide access by others
    2. PDFs are less subject to change or tampering
    3. While Visio is one of my favorite tools, it is complex

  • It is not necessary to convert a Visio (.vsd) diagram into pdf if the user does not have Visio.
    For some time now, Visio 2003 Viewer can be downloaded for free, and allows anyone to view Visio drawings and diagrams (created with Visio 5, 2000, 2002, or 2003) inside Microsoft Internet Explorer version 5.0 or later Web browser.

  • Hi Milan - Yes, I agree and we use free Office viewers currently 🙂
    The reason I like the PDF option is that Adobe 8 reader is something that’s part of the ‘model office configuration’ and we image it automatically to our users. Thus, there would be no installation or need for additional programs. Optionally, the viewer could also be added to the ‘model office’ but it would be much rarer for folks to look at it.
    Still, while we’ll most likely leave well enough alone I’m keeping calvin’s idea in mind for the future and even non-SOX exhibits which I do a number of. I’m looking at an open source tool called PDF Creator and will test along these lines in the future.

  • I wanted to thank everyone for your participation on the poll (flow chart vs. narrative)… Everyone provided GREAT feedback; I appreciate that greatly…

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