Visio: The Best Flowchart Software for Small Businesses in 2016

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We’ve always been a bit miffed that flowchart software doesn’t come as a standard in most office suites for PCs. We think that there’s a strong argument that it should be incorporated in those packages because what business doesn’t need to create flowcharts on at least a semi-regular basis. However, whining won’t get us anywhere and that means that businesses which make flowcharts are going to need to get a flowchart creation package.

Our choice for the best flowchart software for small business in 2016 is Visio Pro for Office 365.

Why Did We Choose Visio?

There are a number of reasons that we chose Visio for our best flowchart software for small businesses in 2016 and these include:

Reputation

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Visio is a Microsoft product and that should be enough said really. The software giant is extremely unlikely to disappear on you unless there’s a plague of flesh eating zombies unleashed on America and at that point – it’s likely that software will be the last thing on your mind. We know that Microsoft isn’t everyone’s favorite vendor but when it comes to reputation it would be hard to dispute that theirs is among the best.

Value for Money

Value for money is a thorny question when it comes to Visio. That’s because while it is very reasonably priced (subscriptions start at $13 a month); you can only benefit from that reasonable pricing if you are already using Office 365 and that means paying a subscription for all your office services too. Given the need for online functionality for many businesses this is probably not a big deal and many will have a subscription to Office 365 already but it may be a deal killer for Visio if your office is among the growing numbers using an alternative online suite such as Google Docs.

Ease of Use and Functionality

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Not every Microsoft product is a joy to use but in the main they are all at least laid out in similar fashion and an experience user of the Microsoft Office suite is unlikely to find Visio very much of a learning curve. It’s a very, very user-friendly package and the drag and drop interface is a joy to get started with.

From a functionality perspective there are a few important highlights:

  • Flowchart connectors. These are drag and drop too and very easy to create between any two points. There’s also a handy “junction jog” feature which creates a little visual “bump” when connectors cross over each other.
  • Flowchart creation. We don’t think it gets any easier than Visio for flowchart creation – drag shapes into place, fill them with text at a click of a button, backed up with MS Office’s spellcheck functionality and you’re cooking with gas. The auto-resizing of text to fit within an object is great too.
  • Multi-page support. Visio diagrams can grow as large as you need them to be and if you go over the edge of a printed page, multiple pages are created.
  • Pre-made objects. In addition to the boxes, connectors, etc. Visio also supplies you with a decent set of clipart, shapes, etc. included in the headline price.
  • Sharing. If you’re sharing with other 365 users – you get all the usual MS Office sharing facilities. However, if you want to send the document to someone without Visio; you’re left hunting around to find the link to send them to a Visio viewer – this was one of the few weaknesses that we identified in Visio. The viewer also limits the other person to viewing; there’s no comment or change facility.
  • Template support. Visio comes with a bunch of pre-prepared flow chart templates from mind maps to UML to SWOT. The only thing missing is good quality GANTT charts which might be because they’re well supported in MS Project (available for an additional license fee – of course).

Customer Support

As we’ve already said; Visio is a Microsoft product and that’s both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that Visio is incredibly intuitive to use as you’d expect from a product that is supposed to fit seamlessly into the office suite.

Once you need a little bit more in the way of direction there’s an impressive host of tutorials, tips and FAQs on the Microsoft website though we didn’t find that these were always phrased the way we’d phrase them so finding exactly what you want isn’t always the easiest of tasks. There’s a blog and support forum too which means that if you get stuck you can always reach out to other users and see how they’re handling something.

Visio subscribers also get access to Microsoft’s telephone support and online chat. We’ve got to be honest – this isn’t as good as it could be. Our experience with MS support is that while their agents are great at searching the knowledgebase; they’re not very good at thinking outside of the box and if your query is unusual – they may not be very quick to resolve it.

Drawbacks to Using Visio Pro

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The biggest drawback of Visio to us is the sharing aspect of things. We know that Microsoft, understandably, wants to sell licenses but at the same time they ought to be able to provide a viewer that at least allows for direct comments to be made on a diagram. In-house teams probably won’t even notice this drawback but those working directly with client facing operations may find this a big deal – particularly if they do a lot of flowchart work.

The lack of GANTT charts is frustrating too. We know that MS Project is an awesome project management tool but for small organizations having to fork out for two sets of software where one could have done the job may be cost-prohibitive.

The final drawback is no surprise –as a Microsoft product there’s no support for Apple products at all. Visio doesn’t run on the Mac or the iPad and to complete the “closed shop” approach; you’ve got no chance with running this on an Android tablet either. We’re not sure this is a huge deal but it’s worth bearing in mind when making your selection of flowchart software too.

 

  • Scott Helmers

    Nicholas,

    Thanks for an excellent summary of Visio Pro for Office 365. If I may, I’d like to offer a couple of clarifications.

    Microsoft does provide a built-in viewer for Visio diagrams. It’s installed automatically with the desktop versions of Microsoft Office, which I’m sure many of your readers still have installed. One way to know it’s there: you’ll see a diagram preview if you click a Visio diagram attached to an Outlook email message.

    More germane to the online world of Office 365, Visio Online (currently in preview) allows viewing of any Visio diagram in any browser on any device. The only requirement is that you store the diagram in OneDrive for Business or SharePoint Online. This provides a simple, effective technique for sharing diagrams internally or with clients. Details: https://blogs.msdn.microsoft.com/visio/2016/11/01/introducing-visio-online-public-preview/

    You mentioned that you would like the ability to add comments to a Visio diagram without needing to have Visio installed. Commenting on a Visio diagram via a web browser has been available since Visio 2013 and SharePoint 2013. If you’d like to see a demonstration, I recently did a webcast titled “Collaborate for innovation and improvement” (https://resources.office.com/en-us-landing-EnvisionwhatyoucandowithVisioseries.html). Note: Visio Online, mentioned in the preceding paragraph, doesn’t currently offer online commenting, but I’m not revealing any secrets when I suggest you stay tuned…

    You cited lack of a Gantt chart as a weakness, but there actually is one. You’ll find it in the Schedule category of Visio templates. IMHO, it isn’t terribly stylish, but it does exist and can even import data from Excel, Project, or a text file.

    Finally, while you’re correct that there isn’t a version of Visio for Mac, there is a viewer available on iPad. Visio on iPad is currently in preview. According to this article, the viewer should be available in the next few months: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Visio-on-iPad-Insider-Program-3dc2390d-6192-4fed-8b07-0647da2ccf3e

    This got a bit long, but I hope it’s useful information.

    Scott A. Helmers
    Author:
    Visio 2016 Step by Step http://bit.ly/MSP-SBS16
    Advanced Visio training at LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) http://bit.ly/AdvVisio-Data