5 good reasons to ditch Visio and find a BPM alternative.


There are at least 5 reasons why you need an alternative to Visio. Here's why Visio won't cut it as an effective business process mapping tool.

We met when I was just starting out as an industrial engineer. I was young, inexperienced and, although I knew my options were limited, I was determined to make the best of the situation.

However, it wasn't long before those ruthless masters, Time and Experience, made it clear: Visio and I were not going to enjoy a long-term, harmonious relationship when it came to creating leading-edge business processes.

In fairness, most of us are taught to use Visio to map business processes — it's practically a default setting for process specialists. Even Excel, that global authority on spreadsheets, offers Visio as a go-to template for mapping processes. 

The template appears to be a simple solution, until you actually use it. Formulate a flow chat in tabular form, and you'll find it doesn't translate at all well into process mapping format.

Over time, I became more and more disgruntled with Visio. As an experienced general manager and the leader of two business process mapping implementations, I will no longer deal with the frustration of Visio. And as a consultant, I can now save my clients from the irritation too.

You may be able to relate to a few reasons why I think Visio fails us when it comes to effectively mapping business processes:

1. Visio is complex

Fundamentally Visio is a collection of little boxes, with not much depth behind them. And because those small boxes don't capture the essence of process, people are tempted to create even more little boxes. The result is that the processes appear more and more complex, and become harder and harder to read.

It is true that sometimes even rudimentary instructions are sufficient in certain business processes. But because Visio encourages unnecessary levels of complexity, the process documentation is constantly robbed of its value.

Visio tends to sprawl out over pages, with branches spreading everywhere. That makes it difficult to get an overview and to keep track of what goes where.

Human nature dictates that laborious ways to access processes result in people giving up trying to use them. They'd rather go and ask someone for information, which obviously only gives them a particular version of the truth.

Also, when processes are overly complex, the person assigned to do the updating frequently doesn't understand what needs to be done. As a result updates fall by the wayside, and as soon as updates are disregarded, the value of your process mapping is completely compromised.

In a nutshell, complex processes just won't be used.

2. Accountability gets to play hooky

At first glance, Visio charts appear to allocate any given business process to a particular person. Instead the document ends up reading like a job description. It's the links between people that are critical in business process mapping — way more than merely recording what they need to do on a day-to-day basis.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say the complex stuff that happens in a business is what goes across boundaries. It's the delineation of those that adds real value to a business. The whole point of mapping your business processes is to show the links between processes, or put boundaries around processes. That way you know what you should and shouldn't do, and what you should and shouldn't expect from the prior participants in the process.

I have yet to see a Visio chart that shows who is responsible for what. And without that critical detail, the benefit is lost.

3. Document attachments will hijack your finest mapping efforts

One of the benefits of business process mapping is having all the related forms within easy reach when viewing a particular activity. But if you're using Visio, these forms are seldom online and can usually be found hunkering down in manuals (or worse still, some poorly maintained group "P-drive" or "S-drive"). Invariably they aren't easy to find and are often out of date.

It's difficult to keep track of which document attachments have been updated and which have not, as there are often multiple versions saved in different places.

4. Nerd city is sparsely populated

Many businesses rely on specialists to write, map and manage business processes. These specialists are sometimes quite proficient at creating Visio process maps, but this makes them a fairly elite group.

These islands of perfection are often the only ones in the business who understand and can use them.

I believe we may need to be pragmatic — business processes should be simple, should be used, and should be alive. Relying only on specialists to review and update them regularly is setting your business up for failure.

5. Second generation process mappers aren't especially devoted 

Updates and change management are two integral parts of successful business process mapping efforts.

The snag is that when your processes champion leaves or changes roles, the next person has diluted ownership of the project and may not feel quite the same level of loyalty and commitment, as it wasn't their brainchild. In my experience, your processes will, in all likelihood, not be maintained. 

More often than not, processes are given emergency attention when the next audit prompts a flurry of activity. It's the wrong way of doing things: processes need to be alive, updated and accessed regularly. 

In short: traffic, traffic, traffic equals momentum, momentum, momentum. You won't achieve that with a Visio chart in a folder under someone's desk.   

This cloud does have a silver lining.

Several years after my initial exposure to Visio, and with numerous business process mapping projects under my belt, I have the benefit of experience and perspective. What those taught me is that once you've used a proper business process mapping tool, you won't go back to Visio. It just isn't effective, and it isn't efficient.

Do yourself, your business and your business process mapping projects a favour, and find a Visio alternative. Investigate how business process mapping tools can make your relationship with Visio a distant memory that is best forgotten.

Guest blogger bio.


Garth Pickett
is a career general manager and process improvement evangelist with first-hand experience in personally managing multiple BPM implementation across several organisations, including Colorpak, AperioEpic and Vertex Pacific.

He is now the CEO of 20/20 Business Consulting. 

www.2020business.co.nz

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