Choose a process mapping solution that fits your needs.
Many organizations find themselves using Microsoft Visio for process mapping, organizational charts and architectural diagrams. Often times, this is because it’s a suitable choice for that organization. However, just as often, it happens to be the “familiar” or “default” choice instead of the “purposeful” choice.
Selecting your process mapping and diagramming application is not a complicated decision and it can be determined by asking yourself a few key questions.
Don’t do what I did. I tested out dozens of apps based on feature reviews and articles.
You know what I found out? I found out that most of the higher end applications do the same thing. So, instead of wasting your time trying out dozens of apps, like I did, ask yourself some basic questions first (outlined below) and then skip over to my article, 3 Process Mapping Alternatives to Microsoft Visio, make a choice and go, like the wind!
1. What does your organization need from process mapping and diagramming software?
Identify the purpose for your process mapping as well as who will be using it. Will you be using it for operational processes only? Do you want to use it for organizational charts, system diagrams and project management too? What about mind maps, marketing brochures and infomaps?
Who will be using the software? Will it be process and business analysts? Operations analysts? Admin assistants? Sales and Marketing team members?
Nowadays, most process mapping and diagramming software is fairly versatile, offering templates for everything from engineering maps to interior floor design plans, and from project gantt charts to marketing flyers. A good diagramming application today offers so much more than a basic process flow.
If the use of this application will be restricted to a small number of users, cost and training may not be much of a consideration. If it’s for a larger number of users, however, cost and functionality may be more important factors. To manage costs, you could consider low-cost or no-cost applications. Or, you could consider using generic team logins for named licenses.
2. Do you run a hybrid-environment (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.)?
If you find yourself running a hybrid-environment (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, etc.) or there is the possibility of external vendors, contractors and consultants who may be running non-Windows workstations, you may want to consider something other than Microsoft Visio.
This is especially true if you intend for your users to run local applications for process mapping rather than web-based solutions. Microsoft Visio is available online with a Microsoft 365 subscription but the desktop version doesn’t run on anything other than a Windows operating system.
3. Do you prefer local workstation installations vs. web-based applications?
If you have a preference of running applications off the desktop, and you want a process mapping and diagramming solution that can be installed on multiple operating systems, have a look at my 3 Process Mapping Alternatives to Microsoft Visio blog.
Although the vast majority of our workforce works online, there may be instances where you may be working without a high-speed Internet connection to the web-application server. This could be because you have turned off your Wi-Fi temporarily (or it is unavailable) or you’re in a remote location with poor infrastructure or poor Internet reception, or the web-application server itself is unavailable due to scheduled maintenance or unplanned disruptions.
In any case, it’s frustrating when the Internet connection is unavailable, or subpar, and it’s affecting your ability to do your work. This is the main reason why I’m personally still a fan of desktop applications. I like to be able to get my work done with or without an Internet connection and I find it disruptive when network or Internet slow-downs cause futzing.
Being able to continue your work without an active Internet connection may be valuable in some cases and that can be a good reason to prefer a desktop installation over a web-based solution.
4. Do you need any specific solution integration needs?
If you are a Microsoft Partner, you probably want to stick with Microsoft Visio. 🙂
If your organization uses Atlassian Tools like Confluence and Jira, you probably want to use a BPMN-based (Business Process Model and Notation) tool such as Adonis, Draw.io or Flower.
Having said that, I should note that the general integration of diagrams within office-type applications, like documents and spreadsheets, isn’t a huge consideration. In other words, diagrams and workflows can be built independently of office applications. Therefore, embedding workflows into a document for quick edit isn’t usually a major desire, feature or concern. You may do this regularly when you embed an Excel chart within a Word document, but it’s not generally a practice to embed your process workflows into a Word document to edit on the fly.
The point is, you generally build the process workflow and export it to a PDF of JPG if you want to share it. As well, most all applications will “export the workflow to Word” or other applications but that simply means it puts in image of the workflow in a Word document for you.
One final consideration for helping you make your decision:
Are you committing to a process mapping and diagramming solution long-term? Is it a short-term need? Are you planning to change the application again sometime soon?
If you plan to use it a great deal, give it some added thought and planning up front.
If you’re not planning on using it a great deal and it’s simply fulfilling a short-term need, I wouldn’t recommend losing sleep over the choice. Choose one of the solutions in 3 Process Mapping Alternatives to Microsoft Visio. Base your decision on this criteria and call it a day:
-desktop or web-based solution, and
-do you need to use it on multiple operating systems (if you choose the desktop solution)
-ease of use
The truth is that diagramming software does not generally play well with one other, or with Visio. So, although applications like Lucidchart, Smartdraw, Edraw Max and others all have an “export to Visio” option, it doesn’t work well. When you open it up in Visio after export, expect most of the time for it to be a do-over. The shapes, text and formatting are never quite right and it’s a struggle to try to make it work well, especially if you’re a perfectionist at all.
If you are planning to do more process mapping and diagramming, make a choice that you can stick with for a while! I have tested countless applications and I personally use and recommend Edraw Max.
Although no diagramming software is perfect, I find Edraw Max is the best overall application for my needs and my work. The desktop version is not hugely expensive, it runs well on Windows and Mac (and Linux), it’s full of features and, most of all, it is intuitive and really easy to use.
In fact, I use and can use Edraw Max for all of the following (and more): process maps and models, organizational charts, data flow diagrams, Venn diagrams, Gantt charts, progress dashboards, invoice templates, marketing posters and brochures, mind maps, to-do lists, comparison charts, floor plans, value stream maps, RACI charts, network diagrams and decision trees. Not bad for one application, eh?
I hope this article was useful. Mapping and diagramming software has come a long way and offers value to many industries, for tasks ranging from administration to project management and from documentation to process improvement.
Process Priming Consulting Services Ltd. is an independent process-consulting firm. Process Primer is not in direct partnership and is not a registered affiliate with any of the above-mentioned organizations. The opinions expressed in this blog are the opinions of our independent process consultant(s) and we do not receive any kickbacks or endorsements from the mentioned organizations.
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