Use the best flowchart tool for the job

Applies to

Microsoft Office PowerPoint® 2003

Microsoft PowerPoint® 2002

Microsoft Office Visio® 2003

Microsoft Visio® 2002

You may be familiar with the convenient flowcharting tools included in Microsoft PowerPoint because you use the program frequently to create slide presentations.

But are you aware that Microsoft Visio is designed specifically to support the creation of flowcharts and other drawings and diagrams?

flowchart describing a complex business process

So, which program is the best choice when you want to use a flowchart to document a business process or describe the flow of information in your corporation?

Fortunately (it may not seem fortunate right now, but keep reading), it's not a simple case of one program being better than the other.

Both Visio and PowerPoint offer some of the same advantages, such as:

  • Pre-made flowchart shapes that you can drop onto a drawing page or slide.

  • Connecting lines that glue to flowchart shapes so that you can revise your flowchart without losing connections.

  • A convenient click-and-type method for adding text to flowchart shapes.

  • The ability to save the flowchart in a variety of graphic formats, or as a Web page.

The decision about which program to use, therefore, depends entirely upon the size and purpose of the particular flowchart you intend to create.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How large or complex will the flowchart be?

  • What is the intended life of the flowchart? Is it a one-time document or will you revise and update it over time?

  • Are you satisfied with a flowchart that gives a static view of the process, or would you like a dynamic flowchart that you can use to evaluate process efficiency?

Your answers determine whether you should choose Visio or PowerPoint, as shown in the following table:

Flowchart size and purpose

Use Visio

Use PowerPoint

Create a small flowchart for use in a slide presentation


Create a large or complex flowchart


Create a flowchart that you can revise over time


Compare and evaluate processes using information added to flowchart shapes


Create a small flowchart for use in a slide presentation

If you are preparing a slide presentation and want to include a small flowchart on one of the slides, it's most efficient to create a flowchart in PowerPoint right on the slide where you want to include it.

flowchart on powerpoint slide created using flowchart and connectors autoshapes

The Flowchart and Connector AutoShapes in PowerPoint make it easy to assemble a small flowchart. The flowchart shapes automatically take on the color scheme of the slide.

Note: If the flowchart you need was created in Visio, you don't have to recreate it in PowerPoint. You can copy and paste it onto the PowerPoint slide.

Create a large or complex flowchart

If you're creating a large or complex flowchart, you need the unlimited drawing space and flexibility that Visio provides.

three ways to handle large flowcharts in visio

In Visio, if a flowchart extends beyond the boundaries of a letter size page, you have several options. You can:

  • Change the drawing page size for Visio 2002, change it for Visio 2003, or change the orientation so the page contains the flowchart.

  • Draw as much of your flowchart as you can on one page. Then, use an off-page reference for Visio 2002, or for Visio 2003, to create a link to a page on which the flowchart continues.

  • Change the flowchart size for Visio 2002, or for Visio 2003 so that it fits on one letter-sized page.

Create a flowchart that you can revise over time

If you expect the flowchart to have a relatively long life and be revised over time, there are advantages to having it exist as an independent document rather than a graphic on a slide.

While you can save a flowchart you create in PowerPoint (or Visio) to a variety of graphic formats, these formats do not support the features that make revising flowcharts easy (for example, connecting lines that glue to shapes and the click-and-type method for adding text).

When you create and maintain a flowchart in Visio, you have an independent file that you can:

  • Easily keep up to date over the life of a project.

  • Link to a document or slide presentation so that updates you make to the original flowchart always appear in the document or presentation.

Compare and evaluate processes

If you just want a static picture of a basic process, either PowerPoint or Visio will do. But, if you want your flowchart to function as a tool for measuring process efficiency, choose Visio.

Visio flowchart shapes are designed so that you can store information for Visio 2002, or for Visio 2003 in them. For example, at each step in a process you can store numerical data related to the cost, duration, and resources the step requires. Then, you can generate reports for Visio 2002, or for Visio 2003 based on the data.

When you add information to flowchart shapes, the flowchart becomes a dynamic tool with which you can perform evaluation tasks such as:

  • Comparing two ways of handling a process to see which costs more or takes longer

  • Getting a detailed view of exactly how many resources are devoted to completing a task

  • Gathering quality management and process re-engineering data

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