In the normal course of my work as an Instructional Designer and Project Manager, I am constantly on the look out for tools and tips to make the content development and review process less painful for everyone involved. It is my intention to share some of my favorites with you over the coming year.
Today, let's talk about flow charts...or process diagrams, or decision trees, or whatever you'd like to call them. Raise your hand if you have ever used, and have subsequently been frustrated by, Microsoft Visio. It's OK, I know you are out there.
It's not that there is anything in particular wrong with Visio as a flow charting tool. It has a ton of great features. In fact, one could argue that it has too many features, making it overwhelming for new users. But, it is not the software features that are at the core of my frustration with Visio. Rather, it's the access to the tool.
I can't tell you how many times I've been working at a client site (on a client PC) and went to create a process flow chart, only to realize Visio was not on the PC. Remember, Visio is not a standard part of MS Office and requires a separate license (and it's expensive). So, paperwork is filled out, tech support gets involved, and a few days later I can finally create a flow chart. Great! At least until I send the flow chart to a subject matter expert for review and get an email back that they do not have Visio, and the Visio Reader won't let them make any notes or changes.
Suddenly, we are back to marking up a paper copy or holding an online meeting to review the flow chart and capture changes. Or worse, adding more time and money to the mix waiting for Visio to be added to the subject matter expert's PC.
Most recently, I've been working with a client whose subject matter experts are volunteers scattered about the county. When working with this group, there is no central IT support to call on or budget to make sure everyone has Visio. I needed a flow charting tool that could be accessed by the entire group with nothing more than an Internet connection.
After a little research, I landed at Gliffy.com, and so far have not looked back. Gliffy is an online flow charting tool that provides a cost effective way to create and publish high-quality flow charts and diagrams. It provides free collaboration tools and automatic revision tracking that make sharing your work a snap. I'm also pleased with the variety of publishing options the tool provides. In one click you can publish your diagram as a web page and send a simple link to your team.
Gliffy offers a free basic account and premium services are available at additional, but minimal cost. My only minor complaint about Gliffy is the somewhat limited print options it provides. However, that said, you can always create a new diagram in Gliffy, save it in a Visio format, and print from there.
You've got nothing to lose by checking it out. You may even gain a little peace of mind the next time you need to share or collaborate on a flow chart or diagram during the course of your content development efforts.