How to automatically create and update Visio diagrams from Excel

To successfully create Visio diagrams from Excel, Visio Pro for Office 365 is required. Here you can see the prices or download trial.

  1. Open Excel (I have latest release of Excel from Office 365 suite)
  2. In the search box, type “process” and hit Enter. Among other search results, 2 Excel templates should appear with Excel icons in upper left corner and Visio diagrams in lower right corner. Select the one you want/need. I will continue with Process Map for Cross-Functional Flowchart.

  3. A nicely formatted Excel file will open with pretty much all info you need to know about Data Visualizer; the solution that allows us to create diagrams from Excel.

  4. Head over to Process Map worksheet.
  5. You’ll notice here we have “ProcessMapDataTable populated with 2 rows. This is the Excel Table that we need to work with. Everything else can be deleted/ignored.

  6. Remove the 2 rows added as examples and add your process’ field mappings. For this example, I will use Software Development process found on www.smartdraw.com
  7. I will modify my Excel Table based on this process. Here is my final Table:
Process Step IDProcess Step DescriptionNext Step IDConnector LabelShape TypeFunctionPhase
P01StartP02StartProject ManagementPlanning
P02Gather requirementsP03DocumentProject ManagementPlanning
P03Develop specificationsP04ProcessSoftware DesignDesign
P04Develop internal designP05ProcessSoftware DesignDesign
P05Develop external designP06ProcessSoftware DesignDesign
P06Change required?P05,P07Yes,NoDecisionSoftware DesignDesign
P07Define Development teamP08SubprocessSoftware DevelopmentCoding
P08Application developmentP09ProcessSoftware DevelopmentCoding
P09User Acceptance TestingP10ProcessSoftware DevelopmentCoding
P10Quality AssuranceP11ProcessSoftware DevelopmentCoding
P11DefectsP08,P12Yes,NoDecisionSoftware DevelopmentCoding
P12Release to productionP13SubprocessRelease ManagementRelease
P13StopEndProject ManagementRelease

Make sure that you have more than one value in Next Step ID, you should have similar number of values/labels in Connector Label column and that those values match its corresponding step.

For example, P06 Step ID is a decision point. If changes are required (Yes), process goes back to P05 Step ID. If no changes are required (No), process proceeds to P07 Step ID.

Lastly, ensure your last process step has nothing in Next Step ID field, because it’s the last one, there is nothing else afterwards… process ends here. Save your Excel file.

  1. Open Visio.
  2. In the search box, type “data visualizer” and hit Enter. You should get the Basic and Cross-Functional templates. Select the same one you used for creating the Excel file. Cross-Functional Flowchart in my example.

    Just in case you started it wrongly or you want to get Excel template again, click Excel data template. Select your local Unit and click Create.

  3. Visio will open Create Diagram from Data wizard.
  4. Using first drop-down box, select the correct diagram type to use.
  5. In the second field, browse to the Excel file you created and saved in Step 7.
  6. In the last field, Visio should automatically recognize your Excel Table name, ProcessMapData in my example. Click Next.

  7. If you did not modified headers in the Excel Table, next page should automatically recognize and map Function and Phase columns. Expand More Options if you want to modify the order of column values. Assuming you created your process in a chronological order, you’d probably want to retain the same order in Visio.

  8. On the next wizard page the same, if you left all default column headers, Visio will automatically recognize and map needed columns. Otherwise, drag and drop the columns from the left.

    Short note here: you probably noticed your Excel Table has blue and green headers. Blue headers are required for these mappings and building your final diagram. Whether green columns are nice to have. All those columns may have valuable info for the diagram, but I think Microsoft still has ways for improvement this specific side, especially Alt Description, because it may contain too much text. Add something to this column and you will see what I’m referring to.

  9. Next page is about choosing your required Visio shapes. I did not have anything to modify or comment here. It seems like Microsoft is limiting the user to use predefined shapes but, anyway, default shapes are kind of standard so should be sufficient.

  10. The last wizard step is the one we need to modify to suit our needs. Make sure Next Step ID is selected for Specify Column Name, Relationship is set to Next Step, Delimiter is set to comma and Connector Label is mapped to its column with same name. Click Finish.

  11. You should now have a fully functional Visio diagram. Note that Visio will zoom it in such a way that it fits your page; if needed, zoom it in or out to see the details. Also, for some reason, Visio creates a lot of unused space between each shape. Feel free to rearrange everything to save space.

One nice thing about having this Excel file linked to Visio is that any updates you make to the process in Excel, you can refresh Visio diagram to update it with those changes. Just select your Visio diagram and from Data tab, in Create from Data group select Refresh.

For reading official Microsoft article about this, please take a look at “Create a Data Visualizer diagram” post. It contains more valuable info, including a description about each Excel columns that interact with Visio flowchart components.

Similarly, here’s a video made by Microsoft.

July 20, 2018: Microsoft just posted another, shorter, video on YouTube marketing same thing.

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