Call Us! +44 7973 631102

Tree Diagram Tools: Tips and App Reviews

A chainsaw, not the recommended Tree Diagram tools

When I build KPI Trees with clients, one of the trickiest practical problems is which tree diagram tools to use to create and share those trees. Anyone who has built a tree knows that they can quickly become difficult to fit on a page, read and share.

Things to consider when choosing your KPI Tree Diagram tool…

  • Does the read/edit software have to be a standard desktop application (like Microsoft Word or PowerPoint) or do you have the chance to install specialist applications like Visio or Aris?
  • What is the IT skill level of the users?
  • Do you have to attach meta-data to objects? If so, you will need to go for a more specialist diagram package e.g. Visio.
  • Is there a company standard currently in use for this type of diagram? E.g. Mindjet, mind mapping software.
  • Will the software be used on a variety of operating systems? Some applications like OpenOffice, FreeMind and Mindjet cover two or more operating systems. Others, such as Visio, tie you firmly to one platform.
  • What level of annotation and general sophistication are you looking for? How many nodes/branches do you need to fit in?

KPI Tree Snippet

Tree Diagram Tools

I’ve used many of the diagram tools over the years, Here are some of the better options. It’s nowhere near a full list, but do let me know if I’ve missed some useful options.

PostIts, Pen and Paper

Hand drawn KPI tree

The oldest and cheapest of tree diagram tools. Of course, this isn’t an app at all, but is usually the best way to get a group interacting and taking full ownership when developing a KPI Tree. As everyone knows how to drive a paper and pencil, and there’s not real cost involved, you don’t end up with one person owning the production process.

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Fast
  • Zero learning curve
  • Interactive and democratic

Cons

  • Get confusing and busy very quickly
  • For a big group you will often have several versions in use – they need merging afterwards
  • Almost always need ‘writing up’ in one of the following apps
  • Need to be photographed and emailed to share

PC/Windows Tree Diagram Tools

Visio

Microsoft Visio Logo 600x251Visio, for those who haven’t come across it, is a vector-based diagramming tool. It has it’s roots in flow charts and IT design work. It has a steep learning curve, due to the wide range of capability and it will requires some work to set up template shapes though…

Pros

  • Powerful, flexible and pretty much forces you to use re-useable templates and shapes
  • Bucket-loads of power and sophistication under the bonnet, especially with the (expensive) Pro version
  • Good chance there’s already expertise in your business in Visio

Cons

  • Expensive
  • You will need to set up some template shapes
  • Steep learning curve compared with many alternatives
  • Connector routing can make some untidy and infuriating decisions, and then revert when you fix them
  • Visio started as a non-Microsoft product and it still shows, as the product still doesn’t obey some of the design principles other Office apps follow, making it unintuitive at times
  • Windows only

How to get it

You can buy it from here. Just a side note, Microsoft don’t make it easy. Looking for this MS’s paid-for adwords advert takes you to the 365 purchase page, which does not include Visio and gives not indication of where to find it. I have also had issues with being fired between different MS regions when having trial installation problems with Visio, never successfully resolved. Caveat emptor!

 

Microsoft Office – Microsoft Word or Powerpoint

Microsoft Office 2016 LogoIt’s not generally well known, but Word and Powerpoint do have a number of Visio-like properties for their drawing objects, specifically snap points on shapes and connectors. This means that as you drag your boxes around on the page the connectors follow them – essential for tidying and editing complex trees. Head over to the Insert menu on either app and you can drop shapes and connectors onto the page. It’s pretty limited compared with Visio or OmniGraffle, but there’s a very shallow learning curve and you can be confident that pretty much everyone in a corporate environment can open and edit the files.

Pros

  • Pretty much universally available – in companies at least
  • Very shallow learning curve
  • Cross-platform

Cons

  • Serious limitations for bigger trees, e.g. page size and fitting, lack of layers etc.
  • Rapidly run out of page space
  • No custom shapes, the best you can do is Group and Duplicate
  • Printing can become very buggy for diagrams created this way

Excel

excel_icon_thumb800Excel isn’t the obvious choice for tree diagrams, and for most purposes it’s a real chore to use. There is one special case where it does work very well – massive tree diagrams. These can take up a lot of space. Here’s how Excel can help squeeze them onto one page. Be warned though, it’s not a fast method…

How to fit complex KPI Trees on one page using Excel

Although people generally like brightly coloured diagrams, the most space-efficient method is a wire tree diagram like this one…

KPI Tree - Customer Experience

This style, championed by Jon Moon in ‘How to Make an Impact’, often takes 5-10 times fewer pages than the same data represented in an ‘organisation chart’ style KPI Tree. The example wire tree was done entirely within Excel, mostly using the ‘Borders’ function. An additional benefit of this approach is that you can add lots of supporting data to each KPI in cells off to the right of the tree. You can download a wire tree template here Wire Tree Excel Template

Mac/OSX Tree Diagram Tools

OmniGraffle

Omnigraffle my favourite of all tree diagram toolsAs a Mac user this is one of my personal favourites. When I switched from Windows to OSX, after a brief period of mourning the fact that Visio wasn’t available for the Mac, I bit the bullet and bought Omnigraffle (price is a definite negative) and haven’t looked back. It can do much of what Visio can do, but has a heap of very intuitive vector drawing capability. If fact it’s the package I used to create most of the vector illustrations in my book KPI Checklists. It’s brilliantly flexible and is supported on IOS too. It has a steep learning curve, due to the wide range of capability and it will requires some work to set up template shapes though…

Pros

  • Powerful and flexible. Pretty much no limits on what you can do.
  • Good ‘fit to page’ capabilities
  • Slick (if expensive) iPhone and iPad companion apps
  • Thriving community of Stencil designers
  • You can import/export to Visio, but thing often get mangled

Cons

  • Expensive
  • You will need to set up some template shapes
  • Steep learning curve compared with many alternatives
  • Mac and IOS only

How to get it

You can buy OmniGraffle from the Apple App Store or direct from Omni.

 

iPad/iPhone/IOS

Grafio

grafioGrafio is an iPad app. I picked it up shortly after buying my iPad Pro, and it looks to be the ideal device for this software. Grafio has a brilliantly simple and intuitive user interface. It’s not part of a suite of apps, in the way that OmniGraffle spans IOS and OSX, so it probably isn’t a heavyweight but it could be just the right tool for fast but presentable prototypes.

Pros

  • Shallow learning curve
  • Plenty of power and flexibility
  • It’s pretty simple to create custom shapes. Build it from standard shapes, group, long press then ‘save’!
  • Fun to use, especially linking shapes with your finger

Cons

  • Hard to share in an editable format – has to be another IOS device
  • Really needs a decent sized iPad – 12 inch pro is best
  • Printing is to IOS Airprint only, or a three stage Export, Share, Print process
  • You will need an (expensive) Apple dongle to be able to flash the live diagram up on a projector

How to get it

From the App Store on your iDevice. The Grafio website will take you straight to the right place.

 

Mindmaps

Mind maps look like they should be useful for tree diagrams, but I’ve found that not to be the case. Typical issues I’ve had are:

  • Centre-Weighted structure. My KPI trees will often link to four or five strategic objectives. May mind mapping products are designed for one central item
  • Cross-linking. Mind map products sometimes support cross-linking, but often do so with different link formats.
  • Zoning. I like to zone my levels on a KPI Tree. Many tools make this a chore.

I’m not saying they won’t work for you, but I’ve tried many of them and come away unimpressed. However, if it’s deployed across your company already, then it may be worth using the tool to-hand.

Verdict

So you are probably looking for a ‘verdict’ here. As a consultant, it’s pencil, paper and posits that are the first weapon of choice when building a KPI tree with a group. When it comes to ‘write up’ , as an Apple user, it’s OmniGraffle, on my MacBook Pro, that I keep coming back to. I tend not to use my iPad for building trees that much, possible because of the intensive mix of text and images that benefits from a full sized keyboard. If I used a PC I would probably go for Visio with a decent custom set of stencils and shapes. Your choice may well be determined by the tools you already have on your PC. If so, then I hope this has given you some ideas on how you can use them [Office in particular] in ways that many not be immediately obvious.

I hope this helps, let me know in the comments if you think there are any others that should be here!

Leave a Comment