Before considering Visio alternatives it’s important to decide what you and your organisation are really looking for. In this article we look specifically at business process mapping, analysis and continuous improvement. MS Visio is often the most used tool in this space but is it really fit for purpose?
Visio alternatives, such as Skore, are actually specifically designed for working with Business Processes unlike Visio itself. This can make your life easier, accelerate your project and elevate you and your team to the role of trusted advisor in no time at all.
Let’s start by taking a look at Microsoft Visio, a diagramming software designed for business use. Having been around for a number of years, and part of the generic Microsoft Office suite, it is available to users in businesses across the world.
One of Visio’s strengths is the large library of shapes and palettes that can be dragged and dropped onto the drawing canvas. For this reason it is incredibly flexible and can be used for an extremely wide range of different applications. That flexibility is also a drawback and the reason why there are so many Visio Alternatives.
One of its common uses, of course, is in Business Process Mapping. There are shapes available for basic flowcharting right through to the Business Process Modelling and Notation standard. This, is the disadvantage, the flexibility and range of shapes. One of the criticisms leveled against Visio is that it’s hard to create consistent processes and stay consistent across a team of analysts.
If it’s part of a larger programme, these processes need to be analysed. Although you can include some extra data in Visio it is generally easier to create a spreadsheet to capture process related information. This creates problems as there are multiple documents and tools to manage in order to perform any sort of analysis which leads to further inconsistency. .
Finally, some feel that the diagrams produced by Visio are not visually pleasing, to be fair this is normally down to the user rather than Visio itself. However Microsoft Visio’s unstructured approach means that a process can be displayed in a disorganised or illogical fashion. As a result teams using Visio will often transcribe processes into something like Powerpoint or Word before presenting to a wider audience. This means that once again more tools are required and the data is duplicated and retyped each time risking misinterpretation and error.
Finding the right tool for Business Process Mapping
The first thing to consider when looking for a Visio alternative for business process mapping is what your process maps will be used for.
In the first instance we map processes for three key reasons; to align people on how the process does / should work, to identify opportunities for improvement and finally to understand the constraints the process must operate under. You can read more about these in our article (why we map processes).
Most of this can be achieved through collaborative process mapping workshops, whether they are face-to-face or run remotely over desktop sharing software. This is one key area where Visio falls down however and a Visio alternative would be required.
All but the most experienced and adept analysts will find it impossible to map a process straight into Visio while it is being described by a group. At the very least there would be long pauses and waiting while boxes were placed on the page and lines joined up. This wouldn’t be acceptable behaviour in what you would hope would be an engaging and participative workshop! Therefore typically Analysts run this sort of session using pen and paper. Afterwards they write it up, essentially double handling the data, creating multiple versions and running the risk of misinterpreting it.
Skore has been designed to map processes at the speed of conversation in live process workshops without slowing down the thought process of participants. In fact many users of Skore find they can actually speed up this exercise with participants finding it highly engaging.
“This is the first time I’ve seen people across the business get excited about taking part in a process workshop. Especially when it’s related to ISO 9001” Andrew de Bere, Quality Assurance Director at SERT.
This incredibly user friendly way of mapping process gets even the most resistant team members involved quickly. What’s more, the processes can be shared with a wider audience without any training on how to read it. It’s intuitive enough that someone looking at it completely fresh will be able to follow it and there is only one version and one document to worry about.
Need Business Process Analysis?
Once a process has been documented, or mapped, it’s typical for some analysis to be conducted. While many improvement opportunities may have been identified during the process capture phase an Analyst may look for more using various techniques. Common types of analysis include:
One of the most common problems in business processes happens at the interfaces between different people and teams. Traditionally an Analyst uses a swimlane view of a process to highlight these handovers and this is something supported in Visio.
The swimlane places each actor in the process in a lane and the handovers between them become clear. However, the more complex a process, and the more actors there are, the harder it becomes to see these handover.
Skore has built in handover analysis that automatically highlights this. In addition, the role view will show an individual role, how often, and with whom they handover, providing a deeper insight into handover problems.
Time and cost analysis
Most analysts will move straight to a spreadsheet for capturing and analysing time and cost information in a process. While some basic information may be captured in the Visio diagram it cannot provide the necessary calculations to complete any analysis. Again multiple documents and tools would be required to support the process.
Again, Visio alternatives, such as Skore, have this capability built directly into the process maps. This means you can map a process and attach time and cost information and create an instant analysis of your process.
Roles and responsibilities
Again swimlanes in Visio provide some clarity of roles and their expected activities but this too is limited. A common tool for analysing roles and responsibilities is RACI. Just like time and cost analysis this information would be added to another spreadsheet and analysed there.
Skore supports RACI (and other types of roles and responsibility models) directly against the process. This keeps all the data in one place in one software and makes it easier to update. Furthermore, the built in dashboards provide insights into roles and responsibilities that wouldn’t be possible in a standard spreadsheet. Skore can be used to really drill into different roles and how they fit within a process.
Requirements tend to be captured outside of a tool like Visio and therefore analysed elsewhere. So if you are looking to reduce the number of different tools you use for analysis work then Skore could well be a good fit.
Requirements can be captured directly against activities in Skore and then quickly and easily reported on. Furthermore, it’s possible to group requirements as you capture them. Perhaps you want to use a prioritisation technique such as Kano or MoSCow to determine the must have, should have and could have requirements . Again this is a simple task in Skore with the added benefit that the requirements can be further analysed by grouping or role.
Now with Skore Connect it is possible to push these requirements directly into Microsoft Azure DevOps as epics and user stories. This provides a clear line of sight between your business requirements and your development tasks. Developers can review tasks in DevOps and refer directly to the process models for context and to answer questions.
Looking for Continuous Business Process Improvement?
Another area where you may be looking for a Visio alternative is in continuous business process improvement. There are a whole range of techniques for this type of activity but central to its success is the humble process map. For effective continuous improvement programmes it’s essential for processes to be easy to read, easy to find and easy to review.
With Visio this tends to be done via email, stored in a shared drive or uploaded to Sharepoint. Unfortunately this runs the risk of duplication and making it hard to find. When using Skore as a Visio alternative you save processes in a central workspace and share securely with everyone.
Skore diagrams are easy to read and users can leave feedback comments directly on the diagrams so that others can respond and collaborate. This makes it perfect for collaboration across diverse teams and processes. You can also control access rights and always rollback to an earlier version if needed.
Other Visio Alternatives
Of course to complete this article we should also note various other Visio alternatives. These, with the exception of BizAgi, are more similar to the general purpose nature of Visio.
- Lucidchart – an online Visio alternative with a user friendly interface and subscription license model
- Draw.io – a free and open source Visio alternative with both a web and desktop interface
- yEd – a desktop application which more focus on business architecture type diagrams
- BizAgi – a desktop application specifically built to support BPMN and interface with the BizAgi automation platform
Microsoft Visio is a useful general purpose diagramming tool that can be used in a variety of scenarios. However, if you need to focus on business process mapping and work as efficiently and effectively as possible then you need to look for a Visio alternative that meets your requirements. Going down the general purpose road will only lead to additional costs in time and money and ultimately frustration later on.
In this article we have highlighted how Skore makes a perfect Visio alternative when you have to map processes, engage the business and share and improve processes on an ongoing basis. If you’d like to learn more about Skore start your free trial here.