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Data flow diagram

Visualize the flow of data within a system or process

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About the data flow diagram

A data flow diagram (DFD) is a graphical representation of how data moves through a system or process. DFDs use symbols and arrows to depict the flow of information, making complex systems easier to understand and analyze.

There are typically four components in a DFD:

  • Processes: These represent the activities in the system that take in inputs, perform some operations, and produce outputs.

  • Data flows: These arrows depict the movement of data from one process to another, or between processes and data stores.

  • Data stores: These are repositories of data where information is stored for later retrieval or use.

  • External entities: These entities are outside the system — they can be people, other systems, or external data sources.

Use this DFD template to highlight inefficiencies within a process, facilitate system design decisions, and foster collaboration between cross-functional teams. Get creative and consider how your diagram can best represent your situation.

Best practices

Visually represent the high-level structure of a system and its data dependencies.

  1. Identify the scope
    Clearly identify the boundaries of the system or process to be modeled and determine the data you want to include.

  2. Visualize data flow
    Use a consistent set of symbols — including external entities, processes, and data stores — to illustrate how data moves through the system in a logical order.

  3. Aim for simplicity
    Minimize the number of processes and data flows in your diagram to avoid complexity. Group related processes together, use clear labeling for all elements, and add color.

  4. Validate for accuracy
    Review your data flow diagram with subject matter experts, incorporating feedback to improve how you represent the flow of data.

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