Activity diagrams describe the workflow behavior of a system. Activity diagrams are similar to state diagrams because activities are the state of doing something. The diagrams describe the state of activities by showing the sequence of activities performed. Activity diagrams can show activities that are conditional or parallel.
When to Use: Activity Diagrams
Activity diagrams should be used in conjunction with other modeling techniques such as interaction diagrams and state diagrams. The main reason to use activity diagrams is to model the workflow behind the system being designed. Activity Diagrams are also useful for: analyzing a use case by describing what actions need to take place and when they should occur; describing a complicated sequential algorithm; and modeling applications with parallel processes.
However, activity diagrams should not take the place of interaction diagrams and state diagrams. Activity diagrams do not give detail about how objects behave or how objects collaborate.
How to Draw: Activity Diagrams
Activity diagrams show the flow of activities through the system. Diagrams are read from top to bottom and have branches and forks to describe conditions and parallel activities. A fork is used when multiple activities are occurring at the same time. The diagram below shows a fork after activity1. This indicates that both activity2 and activity3 are occurring at the same time. After activity2 there is a branch. The branch describes what activities will take place based on a set of conditions.
All branches at some point are followed by a merge to indicate the end of the conditional behavior started by that branch. After the merge all of the parallel activities must be combined by a join before transitioning into the final activity state.
Figure 1: Activity Diagram Example
Below is a possible activity diagram for processing an order. The diagram shows the flow of actions in the system’s workflow. Once the order is received the activities split into two parallel sets of activities.
One side fills and sends the order while the other handles the billing. On the Fill Order side, the method of delivery is decided conditionally. Depending on the condition either the Overnight Delivery activity or the Regular Delivery activity is performed. Finally the parallel activities combine to close the order.
Figure 2: A Sample Activity Diagram