The Best Tools for Mapping How your Business Works
Small businesses that want a better picture of the bundle of processes that drive their operations can experiment with PowerPoint for an introduction to workflows. But what if you get serious about mapping out how your business works?
Enterprises have been doing this for over 50 years and there’s a whole profession dedicated to business architecture and system design that sprang out of engineering in the 1920s. If you’re interested in the history, take a look at Wikipedia’s entries on business process modeling and flowcharts. It’s almost like the hieroglyphics in the Age of the Office.
Not only have enterprises developed a language for workflows, they have also fostered the creation of tools. The web versions of business process tools are cheap (most have free plans) and easy to use. Plus they can be easily shared with employees or contractors, such as for training new staff.
You can find a lot of cloud programs that can design flowcharts (the graphical name for a workflow). Here are some of the better quality and better known types.
Microsoft Visio was the gold standard for diagram design on the desktop. Now there’s a crush of competitors, it’s dominance is less assured. Unfortunately Visio isn’t available as a browser-based app. It costs US$18 on a month or US$13 a month on an annual subscription.
This is the kind of rival that should have Visio worried. LucidChart is a classy program that claims to provide the easiest and most powerful flowchart software in the world. It has a range of other uses such as technical planning tools for programmers through to Venn diagrams and mind mapping for the rest of us. A community library provides “hundreds” of examples from other users.
There’s a free single-user plan but Google Apps integration doesn’t kick in until the most expensive plan which costs US$21 a month for five user licences on an annual subscription.
This free program is a great place to start if you just want to jump straight into designing your business processes. Visiting the website doesn’t take you to the typical info page – it dumps you straight into a drawing board with icons and tools on a palette down the left hand side of the screen. A third of the way down the screen is the FlowChart tab. Have a play around and build a process for signing up a new customer.
This is one versatile program that is well suited to small businesses. It doesn’t just do flowcharts and workflows, but Venn diagrams, SWOT analyses and floorplans. A free plan gives you five diagrams (public only), while an unlimited plan costs $10 a month ($8 a month on an annual contract).
Image credit: Gliffy