You’re a Visio user on a Mac? So how does that work?

By Ross A Hall on December 15th, 2016
You’re a Visio user on a Mac? So how does that work?

As much as I love my Mac one of the weak spots the platform has is preparing process documentation. Quite a bit of my work is understanding how processes work and documenting them, usually using swim lanes and a variation of UML. While I can and have used PowerPoint and Keynote to do this, Visio remains my go-to tool of choice.

Only there’s a problem – Visio isn’t available on the Mac. So how can I, a die-hard Mac user, possibly use Visio?

This has caused a bit of confusion when I’ve met with clients. They’ve looked at my skill set, then wondered how I could possibly create detailed process maps in Visio when an Apple Logo is glowing from the top of my laptop. Here’s how…

3 Steps to Perfect Visio

First, I run a virtual machine using Parallel’s desktop. This turns a little bit of my Mac into a bog standard Intel powered laptop.

Second, within the virtual machine I run Windows 10. Inside this I install and run Visio.

The final step is to hide all the mess that is Windows by simply attaching the Visio icon to my Dock. So now when I want to use Visio I simply click on the icon and wait for a few seconds for everything to fire up. By running it in full screen I don’t really know I’m using Windows and can just focus on what needs to be done.

There are some challenges with this approach, the most annoying of which is the trackpad is uber sensitive (overcome by adjusting a setting if I’m about to embark on a long period of process mapping). But overall I’ve settled it down into “just the way I do things”.

Couldn’t I use something else?

I have been asked whether I could use a native Mac app for process mapping, but to be honest I’ve not found anything suitable.

PowerPoint and Keynote are both OK for producing simpler process flows. They take a bit of work to get running properly and with larger maps soon fall over. PowerPoint is pretty much ubiquitous though and I do use it where clients are reluctant to adopt something more powerful.

The most obvious alternative is Creately and for a while I was a bit of a fan of this. It is relatively simple to use and certainly a lot less expensive than Visio. However I came unstuck when I was working with Visio users and found its import and export tools seriously lacking. There were other quirks and frustrations inside the app that ultimately ended with me deleting it from my MacBook.

I’ve also looked at using Sketch, but the moment you need to insert a process step or shift something from one swim lane to another all hell breaks out!

Bottom line?

If someone could come up with a strong, Mac native process mapping tool that talks to Visio and gives me the same features I will bite their hand off. Until then I’ll continue to pollute the purity of my MacBook with Windows 10 and run Visio.

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My name is Ross Hall.
I design effective, profitable experiences.
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