(For more resources related to this topic, see here.)
When Visio was first conceived of over 20 years ago, its first stated marketing aim was to outsell ABC Flowcharter, the best-selling process diagramming tool at the time. Therefore, Visio had to have all of the features from the start that are core in the creation of flowcharts, namely the ability to connect one shape to another and to have the lines route themselves around shapes. Visio soon achieved its aim, and looked for other targets to reach.
So, 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 saw the introduction of two features, structured diagrams and validation rules, that make process management achievable and customizable, and Microsoft Visio 2013 sees these features enhanced.
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.
Exploring the new process management features in Visio 2013
Firstly, Microsoft Visio 2010 introduced a new Validation API for structured diagrams and provided several examples of this in use, for example with the BPMN (Business Process Modeling Notation) 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. Microsoft Visio 2013 has updated the version of BPMN from 1.1 to 2.0, and has introduced a new SharePoint 2013 Workflow template, in addition to the 2010 one.
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 while it is in use, and, with Visio 2013 Professional edition, an associated list of structured diagram validation rulesets as well. Most of the templates that contain validation rules in Visio 2013 are in the Flowchart category, as seen in the following screenshot, with the exception being the Six Sigma template in the Business category.
Secondly, the concept of a Subprocess was introduced in Visio 2010. 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, selecting an existing shape in the diagram, before selecting the existing page that it links to from the drop-down menu on the Link to Existing button.
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 were also a number of ease-of-use features introduced 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
- An infinite page option, so you need not go over the edge of the paper ever again
Microsoft Visio 2013 has added two more notable features:
- Commenting (a replacement for the old reviewer’s comments)
However, this book is not about teaching the user how to use these features, since there will be many other authors willing to show you how to perform tasks that only need to be explained once. This book is about understanding the Validation API in particular, so that you can create, or amend, the rules to match the business logic that your business requires.
Reviewing 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.
Understanding the Visio BMP Maturity Model
If we look at the Visio BPM Maturity Model that Microsoft has previously presented to its partners, then we can see that Visio 2013 has filled some of the gaps that were still there after Visio 2010. However, we can also see that there are plenty of opportunities for partners to provide solutions on top of the Visio platform. The maturity model shows how Visio initially provided the means to capture paper-drawn business processes into electronic format, and included the ability to encapsulate data into each shape and infer the relationship and order between elements through connectors. Visio 2007 Professional added the ability to easily link shapes, which represent processes, tasks, decisions, gateways, and so on with a data source. Along with that, data graphics were provided to enable shape data to be displayed simply as icons, data bars, text, or to be colored by value. This enriched the user experience and provided quicker visual representation of data, thus increasing the comprehension of the data in the diagrams. Generic templates for specific types of business modeling were provided.
Visio had a built-in report writer for many versions, which provided the ability to export to Excel or XML, but Visio 2010 Premium introduced the concept of validation and structured diagrams, which meant that the information could be verified before exporting. Some templates for specific types of business modeling were provided.
Visio 2010 Premium also saw the introduction of Visio Services on SharePoint that provided the automatic (without involving the Visio client) refreshing of data graphics that were linked to specific types of data sources.
Throughout this book we will be going into detail about Level 5 (Validation) in Visio 2013, because it is important to understand the core capabilities provided in Visio 2013. We will then be able to take the opportunity to provide custom Business Rule Modeling and Visualization.
Reviewing the foundations of structured diagramming
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, that has been validated using the Validation API, which in turn uses the Connectivity API.