The trouble with Visio - why your processes deserve better.


Anyone who has used Visio to map a process knows the pain involved. Whether it’s finding the right shapes or getting the connectors to all line up properly, it takes time, patience and a fair amount of practice to get it right. Organizations that are serious about business process management (BPM) recognize that Visio falls short of the mark for the effective capture and management of business processes.


The challenge of change.

One of the most obvious shortcomings of using Visio is what to do once that process map has been saved.

Processes don’t usually stay the way they’re designed, and that is especially true when they have been captured by the Visio expert rather than the people who use them every day.

Whether it’s a new system to incorporate or suggestions to improve efficiency, any change means a return to the Visio struggle, and that’s a barrier to continual improvement. By constructing static process maps that require specialist knowledge to edit, Visio gets in the way of the processes being improved by the very people who know them best.

Business teams are unlikely to engage with processes that sit in procedure manuals, and creating complex channels for suggesting improvements deters those employing the processes from innovating. 

Organizations need to overcome the business process management challenge of capturing process changes when they occur. Instead of wrestling with connectors and shapes, process owners should be able to concentrate on the substance of the process, not the presentation of it.

The first step for those who are serious about improving process management is to empower teams to keep their own processes up-to-date. That means moving beyond Visio to allow teams to engage directly in the continuous improvement conversation.

Standardizing processes.

A common process management challenge is version control. With Visio, processes can exist in numerous places that aren’t necessarily connected or in communication.

There’s the original file, usually stored on the intranet, then at least one copy that has been modified by a well-meaning user and stored on their local drive, as well as the multiple hard copies that have been printed in procedure manuals and filed on shelves or in desks at various sites.

Of those, there are likely to be numerous revisions, handwritten notes and changes that are only known to the individual users. All of this means there isn’t one process but multiple, and no single source of truth.

Organizations with effective business process management strategies store processes centrally where they are accessible to everyone.

By creating a single source of truth, processes become standardized, ensuring everyone is on the same page with the same up-to-date procedures. This makes capturing improvements possible too, as users can contribute to refining the existing process with the oversight of key stakeholders.

Additionally, it removes the need for everyone to be a Visio expert. Users can access and update processes without needing to be reminded how to align shapes or join connectors.


Inviting innovation.

Another common challenge in the pursuit of process management best practice is facilitating avenues for teams to contribute, even if they are not directly responsible for editing processes.

Providing feedback on processes is a vital part of continuous improvement, and not something Visio can offer natively.

A robust business process management platform should incorporate feedback loops rather than constructing additional systems to allow stakeholders and users to suggest process changes. As process users see inefficiencies or opportunities to reduce costs, they should be able to communicate them directly to the key parties responsible.

A good feedback system then allows the conversation to progress and leads to process improvements. By inviting innovation from the people that use the processes every day, teams become more engaged and continuous improvement becomes part of the organizational culture.

Tracking change.

Once a process starts to evolve, another weakness of Visio emerges. With every change, the new Visio version erases all evidence of the last.

Without an integrated change log, there’s no record of what has been updated, by whom or why.

While file names can be used to track each new version, it soon becomes cumbersome and there is always the risk of the wrong version being accessed, printed or an archived file being overwritten.

The challenge for organizations is maintaining an audit trail that ensures each process change is tracked and recorded with the appropriate detail.

When this challenge is overcome it can have a significant benefit when it comes to auditing. Change logs can be used to provide a picture of the improvements and savings achieved, and maintain accountability for process improvement. 

Keeping processes alive.

Business processes are living documents, or at least they should be. They exist to serve the day-to-day operations of an organization, not as static historical records but as up-to-date guides that shape best practice.

As such, they need to be ever evolving to keep pace with the demands of a changing business. Organizations that are serious about business process management need to look beyond Visio to address the challenges of continuous improvement, standardization and clear accountability.

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