Microsoft Visio is the industry standard for business process modeling, but you might want something different. Something a little more… agile. Just because it’s the most widely used, doesn’t mean it’s the best.
The main reason it’s so widely used is that it’s packaged with Office 365 and often comes pre-installed with enterprise tech suites.
If you’re tired of Visio’s lack of integration, lack of macOS compatibility, and sky-high price point, then you should consider investigating one of the many Visio alternatives out there (like Process Street!) and asking yourself what they can do for you.
There are a lot of options for different use cases; in this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best Visio alternatives and talk about why they might be a better choice.
Here’s a breakdown of the article:
- What is Microsoft Visio?
- What should business process modeling software be good at?
- Best Visio alternatives
- Using Process Street to implement business process modeling
You’re probably all-too-familiar with Microsoft Visio, but for the sake of clarity, let’s start with a quick overview.
What is Visio?
Microsoft Visio is a vector imaging and diagramming program created in 1992 by the Shapeware Corporation, and acquired by Microsoft in 2000. It’s currently part of the Microsoft Office family.
Being part of the Office family, it shares the familiar interface and integrates cleanly with its siblings like Word and Excel.
Of course, Visio isn’t right for everyone. Belonging to a well-known brand just isn’t enough for some people.
So, what’s the state of the game? Where does Visio stand, before we look at some of the alternatives? What does it do well, and what are some of its most glaring shortcomings?
Microsoft Visio: Pros and cons
Microsoft Visio pros:
- Powerful process mapping and modeling capabilities
- Equipped for creating detailed flowcharts and diagrams
- Functions offer an additional layer of control over data visualization
- Mature software – many features that have been developed and refined over the years
Microsoft Visio cons:
- Relatively expensive at $589.99 per license, or $18 per user, per month
- Steep learning curve; not intuitive at all
- Additional costs required from hiring a consultant to help use the software
- Poor reporting
- Sharing or publishing diagrams is difficult
- Dated GUI
- Lacks shapes and figures
- Not available for Mac/Linux
- If you are working with a client, they will need a Visio license to edit your diagram
What should a business process modeling software be good at?
Business process modeling (which involves the specific graphical representation standard of BPMN, or business process model and notation) is a branch of business process management (BPM) that specifically deals with creating easy to read, graphical representations of business processes.
In that sense, the main purpose of a business process modeling software should be to help users immediately understand the structure and flow of a business process. This is tied to a wider objective of improving efficiency and can be considered an effort of continuous improvement.
Process modeling can be very powerful. You can use it to document best practice principles, to simplify the visualization of complicated, nuanced processes in an instant, and gain a competitive advantage.
Mapping processes allows you to:
- Quickly and easily understand how the different components of your business work
- Understand the most important tasks and processes
- Help reinforce the importance of processes
A simple process map looks like this:
It’s clearly a highly visual endeavor; utilizing colors, shapes, and linear flow to communicate complicated relationships between different parts of a business.
When you’re using a business process modeling software, it’s important that it is:
- Easy to read
- Easy to edit
- Relatively inexpensive
- Easy to learn
These attributes help the process modeling software to achieve improved efficiency within an organization, but it’s common for specific software to be kneecapped in one way or another, falling short of hitting all of these marks. Depending on the kind of software, there are often tradeoffs.
One thing that’s clear, is that Microsoft Visio is often not enough to meet all of a company’s BPM needs – that is, business process management as a wider management practice.
Business process management should seek to incorporate the areas of business process design, modeling, execution, analysis, optimization, and automation. Companies should consider how they might use a newer, more agile BPM software instead of a clunky, restricted BPMN software to improve efficiency in their organization.
Best Visio alternative
Making simple flow diagrams isn’t the only thing you need BPM software for. You need processes you can use – ones your employees can easily follow, and update without hassle on the spot if and when they need to.
You need your software to perform a variety of different roles, and different BPM software excels in different areas.
In this article, we’ve rounded up a few of the best Visio alternatives for you to consider for all of your business process management needs.
Here’s a quick list of the best Visio alternatives:
- Process Street
- Pencil and paper
Draw.io: Best Visio alternative for free, simple process modeling
Draw.io is a great, free web app for creating quick, clean, simple process models.
Despite missing some features compared with a fully paid Visio license, with its clean, intuitive interface you can waste no time in getting started with building out your process maps and flow diagrams straight away.
Draw.io can import Gliffy, VSSX, VSDX, Lucidchart, and more file types.
Also available is built-in Google Drive integration, making it more convenient to GSuite users. There’s even a desktop app for offline use, if you’re so inclined.
Benefits of draw.io:
- Simple, minimal interface
- Completely free
- Web app and desktop app
- Google Drive integration
- Compatible with a variety of common BPMN file types
- Used by the team at Process Street!
Drawbacks of draw.io:
- Fewer features than a full Visio license
- Better suited for smaller diagrams; larger images may become buggy
- Not designed for collaborative work
Graphviz: Best open-source Visio alternative
Graphviz is the programmer’s choice; a library of open-source tools created by AT&T Labs Research for creating visual flow diagrams and graphs using the DOT language to facilitate low-level control and command-line image generation.
For those wanting to get stuck in and dig deep into a complicated tool with a ton of documentation, Graphviz is a great free solution. With all sorts of packages and libraries to enable integration, from open-source statistical language R, to Angular, to good old Python.
Benefits of Graphviz:
- Complex diagrams and datasets
- Great integration potential
- Great for process automation
- Has a web version
- Totally free
- Simple, minimal syntax
Drawbacks of Graphviz:
- Text must be kept relatively simple, or added post-process
- Struggles with rendering excessively deep or wide graphs
- Steep learning curve (requires a basic grasp of scripting language)
- UX quirks
Omnigraffle: Best Visio alternative for macOS and iOS
The Omni Group‘s Omnigraffle is a great solution for digital diagramming, especially if you’re an Apple lover. Their latest release of Omnigraffle 7 is fully updated for macOS, and they even have a counterpart mobile and tablet version, fully decked out iOS 13 feature-ready.
Few process modeling solutions are as mobile and tablet friendly as this offering, and their focus on Apple products will surely be a boon to many users.
Omnigraffle’s strengths are with its mobile and tablet functionality, as well as its ease-of-use. It has a great many drawing and layout tools, and the Pro version can both import and export Viso files.
Benefits of Omnigraffle:
- Great macOS and iOS support
- Seamless orthogonal tool and line labels
- Claims to have all the features of Visio
- Versatile; suited for many different graphs and maps
Drawbacks of Omnigraffle:
- Difficult to create stencils from scratch
- Steep learning curve
- macOS/iOS exclusive
Process Street: Best Visio alternative for process management
At Process Street we’re all about processes. That’s what we do. But our software is about creating linear checklists that make it super easy to follow and make a process super easy to scale. We make processes actionable.
If you forget about all of our automations, approval flows, and other fancy features, we’re all about making processes easy to follow.
Benefits of Process Street:
- Powerful BPM software
- Don’t just map your processes; use them!
- Easy to learn and simple to use
- Make edits on-the-spot
- Huge library of free premade templates
- Designed for process automation
- 24/7 dedicated customer support team
- Free trial available
- Rich form fields for clear presentation of information
- Collaborative environment
- Webhooks integrations
Drawbacks of Process Street:
- Not a “traditional” BPMN software; more BPM focused
- Lacks visual process diagramming
- No offline access
Pencil and paper: Best Visio alternative in a pinch
Yep, you heard right – the humble pencil and paper. Whiteboard and pen. Microsoft Paint and mouse cursor. You get the idea.
In all seriousness, sometimes the best solution is the most simple one. Every good process has had its fair share of ideation and drafting – it’s a crucial part of building and improving processes – so why not go for the path of least resistance? There’s a time and a place for detailed process maps, but not every process flow diagram needs to be depicted on the level of a glossy Cisco sales brochure.
Consider what you need to achieve, and what kind of solution is the most appropriate. If a quick and dirty diagram will do the trick, and help communicate a complex idea quickly and effortlessly, then that is a valuable proposition.
You can, of course, build on this further down the line, if you need a polished presentation to pitch to a client, but the ability to skip the learning curve and labor investment of many process modeling solutions should not be underestimated as a valid strategy for saving time and getting the job done.
Benefits of using pencil and paper:
- Possibly the fastest way of notating a process flow diagram
- Completely free
- Truly wireless
Drawbacks of using pencil and paper:
- Relatively simple diagrams
- Narrow use case
- Limited integration
- Not necessarily the best sustainable business solution
Using Process Street to implement BPMN
Whether or not Process Street fits the bill for your ideal Visio alternative, you can almost certainly still reap the benefits of a BPM software like Process Street.
BPMN software like Visio is designed to make process flow easy to read; Process Street is designed to help processes easier to manage.
Just take a look at this checklist for an example of how you can utilize a clear, concise process to build a process map from scratch:
As it happens, we’ve written a lot about business process modeling and mapping – check out some of our other articles on the topic:
- BPMN Tutorial: Quick-Start Guide to Business Process Model and Notation
- UML Tutorial: How to Model any Process or Structure in Your Business
- Why You Should Bother With Business Process Modeling
- A Practical Guide to Increase Productivity with Process Mapping
Making process models practical
Our goal at Process Street is to make recurring work fun, fast, and faultless for teams everywhere.
The problem with software like Visio is that it’s designed more as a documentation tool than anything else. It’s always one step behind the actual, practical implementation of a process in a company.
It makes far more sense to have the process be the living, breathing site of constant optimization and process improvement. That’s what Process Street does. In a single location, you’ve got:
- A clear representation of the process, start to finish
- The most up-to-date version of the process – ALWAYS
- The ability to make changes and process improvements on-the-spot, and instantly update all versions of the template
By thinking about your processes more practically, you are doing good business process management. By using Process Street, you are freeing yourself from the lumbering constraints of an antiquated process mapping tool like Microsoft Visio.
Still not sure what we’re about? Watch this video:
And don’t forget to sign up for a free trial!
What’s your verdict on the best Microsoft Visio alternative? Do you have any other tools you’d recommend? Let us know! We’re always looking to improve the quality of our content.
Thank you for these suggestions!
I was surprised to see Lucidchart did not make the list. It provides a complete solution.
LucidChart is an excellent piece of kit. Mural and Miro are both pretty cool too. Draw.io is free though and covers a load of mind mapping tech while now being part of the Google package. I definitely wouldn’t say no to LucidChart though – they make some very good content too.
We chose to include draw.io as a powerful, free alternative to Lucidchart, but it’s true Lucidchart does provide a great solution for creating diagrams and flow charts. If you are already using Lucidchart, I’d advise you to try out draw.io and consider whether or not it meets the needs that Lucidchart is currently satisfying – you may find you can save yourself a bit of money.
Thanks for this list and overview. Where do you see Lucid Chart? You mentioned it in passing as a format that Draw.io can import. Curious why it didn’t make the list here, though. I am not in love with Lucid Chart, but it’s widely used in my organization. How does Process Street compare to Lucid Chart?
Lucidchart is a good piece of software; if you’re using it and you’re happy with the price point, there’s no need to change. We included Draw.io as it’s a great affordable alternative to Lucidchart (and Visio). Process Street and Lucidchart is the difference between process modeling and process management.
You can use Process Street for process modeling and process management, because it’s designed to help you build actionable, easy-to-follow processes – it’s both representational and actionable. If you need fully-fledged process mapping, in the sense of a visual flow diagram, you can use Process Street to implement a standard operating procedure for process modeling (like the checklist mentioned in this article).
You can only really use Lucidchart for modeling (it lacks checklists or any way to actionably implement processes; it’s purely representational).
While all the above are great for power users who can install software, if you’re a consultant and you want clients to be able to edit stuff without learning a new package, a great fall-back is PowerPoint. There are plenty of process mapping and swim-lane templates out there, and then it’s just drag and drop, copy, paste. Everyone else already has it, so no worries re formats.
Very good point Jake! I was doing a bit of patent stuff a while ago and I kept trying to get everyone using fancy software. The whole thing was taking ages – way longer than it should – and I guessed that maybe people were just avoiding the task. So I switched us over to Powerpoint to “draft” some flows up and suddenly we had it all done the next day.