Creating flowcharts is a great way to visualize everything from manufacturing processes to network diagrams and organizational charts. While you can use other programs (such as Word and PowerPoint in Microsoft’s Office suite) to create these, Microsoft’s Visio application is specifically designed to make creating diagrams and workflow charts as easy as possible.


Supported operating systems:

  • Windows 7
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows XP (SP2 or Higher)
  • Windows 2003 (SP2 or higher)

Hardware requirements:

  • 1.5 GB hard disk space
  • 256 MB Ram memory
  • 500 MhZ processor
  • CD/DVD ROM drive

Who’s it for?

Visio is designed for a number of job roles and tasks. Anyone who needs a diagram to illustrate complex processes and workflows will find this very handy, especially in the following areas:

  • IT Staff
  • Human Resources
  • Engineering
  • Manufacturing/Operations
  • Quality Systems departments

What problem does it solve?

We often turn to visual representations to get our messages across, whether it’s a quick sketch on a white board or an eye-catching poster. For processes and workflows of more complexity, a diagram of the steps involved is often invaluable.

For IT pros, Visio can be used to map your entire network or a specific network process, and it can be used for documentation purposes or to help explain technical details to those who might be less tech-savvy. Visio’s ready-made templates (see Figure A) and tools mean that you don’t have to be a designer or graphic artist to create your own visuals.

Standout features

Easy Relationship Management: The shapes available in Visio relate easily to the things they represent in real life; with Visio creating and maintaining relationships is very easy.
Real Data: Using real data from other applications on a Visio diagram is possible. You can import data from an Excel spreadsheet (or other sources) and place this information in your Visio diagram. This might be useful if you are trying to show the levels of inventory you have on a diagram of your warehouse. With some hardware integration, Visio can display the status of network gear on a diagram as well.
Readability: Recently, I put together a training class for some coworkers to show them Visio 2007 and let them see what it could do. In comparing two diagrams that had been created in Word and PowerPoint, the Visio replica diagram was far easier to read. Relationships between shapes stood out better even though the connecting lines were smaller and the whole experience was made simpler.

Figure A

Getting Started in Visio 2007

What’s wrong?

  • The learning curve for integrating live data in a diagram is a bit steep, but this technique will work with some effort on the part of the designer.
  • Initial pricing, to get into using Visio for small environments, can be high. The full retail version is about $500. Volume licensing brings this down to a more manageable price.

Competitive products

Dia: an open source diagramming application

Gliffy: an online diagramming application

Bottom line for business

If your organization uses flowcharts or other process diagrams, Microsoft Office Visio is definitely worth a look. It’s easy to use and — with some free add-ons for the Office suite — you can enable PDF printing.