yEd – A Decent Free Process Mapping Tool
There are numerous graphical programs you can use for process mapping. I am often asked to give recommendations. In particular, I am asked is there one that is a cheap, or even better, free alternative to Microsoft Visio? For the longest time, I could not in good faith recommend any of the free programs. So for the most part, Microsoft Visio was the default choice.
Recently, however, I took another look at a program that has been around a while but had some drawbacks. To my delight, I discovered it has improved considerably and I have now started using it for my client engagements. It is called yEd and you can download a copy here.
Why choose yEd ahead of any its rivals? yEd has a number of features that makes it uniquely suited to process mapping.
1. It has a layout engine that easily handles the chore of placing process activities neatly and evenly on a map. All you have to do is get the activities on the map and it does the rest. This makes for fast editing and a clean map with minimum effort.
2. It allows you to import activities from an MS Excel spreadsheet. During the import it creates the activity boxes as well as the connectors between them. Particularly when you have a lot of activities to record, this is a very efficient method of getting started.
3. It has a swimlane feature that, provided you have the activities in the correct lane, will auto-arrange the activities. This takes the tedium out of making small editing changes with swimlanes.
4. You can export your diagrams in a wade variety of formats. Among them html and SVG. If you have embedded links in a diagram associated with an activity, for example to a sub-process, you can use the exported SVG image in an html document and it will preserve the links. So you can create have an interactive diagram on a webpage that users can click through to sub-processes or associated documents.
5. yEd is freely available and runs on all major platforms: Windows, Unix/Linux, and Mac OS X. As I write this, the current release is version 3.10.2.
It has some quirks and limitations. The most serious of these is, as a java application, it has some behaviors that do not follow the conventions of either Windows or Linux/Mac applications. For example, it takes a while to get used to the fact that when you click on the canvas, by default it creates a shape. If you did the same in a Mac or Windows application, nothing would happen. But whatever the quirks are, they are far outweighed by the many strengths of yEd.
yEd101 Video Tutorial Course
Much as I enjoy using yEd, like all similar software it has a learning curve. To make the process easier for my clients, I created a series of tutorial for them on using yED for process mapping. After some consideration I have decided to make the whole course available to The Process Consultant site visitors.
Like yEd, the video course is free. All I want in return is your feedback and constructive criticism. If you like them, please comment. It’s a lot of work to do these and I would be glad to know if you think it’s worth it.
Sign up today and get the first installment, “Downloading & Installing yEd”