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Overview of Process Management in Microsoft Visio 2010 (part 1)

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Process flow diagrams have long been a cornerstone of Visio's popularity and appeal, and, although there have been some usability improvements over the years, there have been few enhancements to turn the diagrams into models that can be managed efficiently. Microsoft Visio 2010 sees the introduction of two features that make process management achievable and customizable.

In this article, you will be introduced to the new features that have been added to Microsoft Visio to support structured diagrams and validation. You will see where Visio fits in the Process Management stack, and explore the relevant out of the box content.

What is new in Visio 2010 for Process Management?

Firstly, Microsoft Visio 2010 introduces the new Validation API for structured diagrams, and provides several examples of this in use, for example with the new BPMN Diagram and Microsoft SharePoint Workflow templates, and the improvements to the Basic Flowchart and Cross-Functional Flowchart templates, all of which are found in the Flowchart category.

Templates in Visio consist of a predefined Visio document that has one or more pages, and may have a series of docked stencils (usually positioned on the left-hand side of workspace area). The template document may have an associated list of add-ons that are active whilst it is in use, and, with Visio 2010 Premium Edition, an associated list of structured diagram validation rule sets as well.

Secondly, the concept of a Subprocess has been introduced. This enables processes to hyperlink to other pages describing the subprocesses in the same document, or even across documents. This latter point is necessary if subprocesses are stored in a document library, such as Microsoft SharePoint.

The following screenshot illustrates how an existing subprocess can be associated with a shape in a larger process:

In addition, a subprocess page can be created from an existing shape, or a selection of shapes, in which case they will be moved to the newly-created page.

There are also a number of new ease-of-use features in Microsoft Visio 2010 to assist in the creation and revision of process flow diagrams. These include:

  • Easy auto-connection of shapes

  • Aligning and spacing of shapes

  • Insertion and deletion of connected shapes

  • Improved cross-functional flowcharts

  • Subprocesses

  • An infinite page option, so you need not go over the edge of the paper ever again

Visio Process Management capabilities

Microsoft Visio now sits at the top of the Microsoft Process Management Product Stack, providing a Business Process Analysis (BPA) or Business Process Modeling (BPM) tool for business analysts, process owners/participants, and line of business software architects/developers.

If we look at the Visio BPM Maturity Model that Microsoft presented to their partners, then we can see that Visio 2010 has filled some of the gaps that were still present after Visio 2007. However, we can also see that there are plenty of opportunities for partners to provide solutions on top of the Visio platform.

We will then be able to take the opportunity to provide custom Business Rule Modeling and Visualization.

The foundations of structured diagrams

A structured diagram is a set of logical relationships between items, where these relationships provide visual organization or describe special interaction behaviors between them.

The Microsoft Visio team analyzed the requirements for adding structure to diagrams, and came up with a number of features that needed to be added to the Visio product to achieve this:

  • Container Management: The ability to add labeled boxes around shapes to visually organize them

  • Callout Management: The ability to associate callouts with shapes to display notes

  • List Management: To provide order to shapes within a container

  • Validation API: The ability to test the business logic of a diagram

  • Connectivity API: The ability to create, remove, or traverse connections easily

The following diagram demonstrates the use of Containers and Callouts in the construction of a basic flowchart, which has been validated using the Validation API, that in turn uses the Connectivity API.

Enhanced process flow templates

There are two process flow diagram templates in Visio 2010 Premium edition that have been enhanced since the previous versions of Visio to include validation rules.

The Flowchart templates

There is now very little difference between the Basic Flowchart template and the Cross-Functional Flowchart template in the Flowchart category. In fact, they are identical apart from the latter opening with a couple of Swimlane shapes already placed on the page. Any Basic Flowchart diagram can become a Cross-Functional Flowchart diagram with the dragging-and-dropping of a Swimlane shape onto the page, at which point the new Cross-Functional Flowchart tab will appear.

In addition, parts of the new Six Sigma template in the Business category, which is Visio 2010 Premium edition only, use the same flowchart rules.
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