The Startup Shuffle: How to do Space Planning on a Budget

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

This is a guest post by Brad Hanks, VP of marketing at ZipBooks.

My name is Brad Hanks, and I believe in space planning.

I work at a small, scrappy startup that makes accounting software for small businesses. We’re growing fast, which is wonderful but also painful. Right now we spend a large chunk of our time screening and interviewing people. Once we manage to hire the right person, we’re tasked with figuring out a suitable place to put him or her.

To save on overhead we take the Aladdin’s genie approach to office space—phenomenal cosmic power, in an itty bitty living space.

When we hire someone new, we want to make sure that they are comfortable while still making the best use of our space. Often, adding just a couple more people requires us to rearrange completely.

Unfortunately, hiring a space planner at our level of operation is a non-starter. That said, I’ve found Lucidchart to be an effective floor planning alternative that allows me to do all the space planning myself.

Here are three tips for getting started with Lucidchart’s floor plan shape library.

Pay attention to scale

Scale

When you plan an office space with Lucidchart, you aren’t spitballing something that might work. You can set the exact scale that you are working with and make sure that your space, furniture, walls, windows and doors are all accurate.

I’m the kind of person that likes to iterate until something is right. However, if you iterate in the physical world you end up wasting a lot of time trying to figure out how many powerstrips you will need to buy for a given arrangement of desks based on where the outlets are. Space planning is a team sport in which the more people who are involved, the more likely everyone is going to lose . . . their minds.

You are going to be tempted to just make things “good enough.” However, it’s worth taking the time to pick an inches to feet scale that makes sense for your space and then making sure that all objects in the floor plan layout are true to that scale. I can promise you that whatever quick layout problem you are trying to solve will come up again in the future—and you’ll be thanking yourself if you have a master document of the existing layout to use as a starting point.

Take advantage of advanced shapes

 

door closed     door open

In true Lucidchart fashion, they have really nailed the execution of how you can interact with shapes on the canvas for space layouts. Many shapes in the floorplan library have advanced features, which are there for a reason. Take time to check them out. For example, I like that I can open and close a door slightly so I can see how much clearance I have between a door and the closest piece of furniture.

Use layers

office floor plan

In order to get a high-fidelity representation of an office space both at rest and in motion, I recommend using layers. Objects overlap in real life, so make sure you build that into your floor plan. I can visualize what it looks like when people are sitting with their chairs slightly under their desk, but I can also see what it looks like when people leave things a little askew. This feature is key for me, as there’s not a lot of room for error in our cozy space.

While I currently use Lucidchart to quickly rearrange a small office layout, I’ve worked for both startups and large companies and see this approach proving effective no matter your company or circumstance.

For example, let’s say you’re signing a lease for a new building. You can use Lucidchart to complete a detailed space evaluation and make sure the area fits your needs before you seal it with your signature. If you’re going to stay put for a long time, this tool makes it easy to plan a remodel. For larger companies with complex team structures, Lucidchart is perfect for ensuring that everyone is seated where they need to be.

office floor plan

Apple may have the ability to spend millions on a circular campus to solve their space planning woes, but for the rest of us, Lucidchart is a great option. I know it’s been just the right choice for me in terms of affordability, flexibility, and convenience.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Diagram a Day Keeps Distracted Readers Away

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

visualization

Words are processed by short term memory, where only around seven pieces of information can be retained at a given time. That’s not very promising. Images, on the other hand, go to long-term memory where they are indelibly etched–that’s why a picture is worth a thousand words.

Whether you are presenting data in a slide deck to executives or a biology lesson to fifth graders, you may want to give this cliche some consideration. Visuals can make the difference in whether or not your message makes a lasting statement. Here are a few of the reasons as to why you may want to hop on the visualization train:

1. Visuals stand out from the crowd.

We are inundated with information every second of every day, and we can’t take it all in. Visuals up your chances of making the cut.



Eye tracking studies show that people pay attention to and spend more time looking at information-carrying images than reading text on a page. Content paired with relevant images gets 94 percent more views than content without images. It’s a simple solution for making sure your message breaks through the noise—give your audience something engaging to look at.

2. Visuals speak our language.

We are visually wired. As a result, images can help break down the complex.



Take this example—people following directions that include both text and illustrations do 323 percent better than those with just text. Relationships between data can be better demonstrated in a visual format—it’s much easier to show increase in profits over time with a line graph than it is with a load of numbers and letters. Visuals offer a common language and can help your audience comprehend information quickly. In an office setting, employees are 17 percent more productive and have to use 20 percent fewer mental resources when data is displayed visually.

3. Visuals stick with us.

We remember images. Visual cues can help us to remember and retrieve information because in stark contrast to the abstract nature of words, images are concrete.



In a study, students were asked to remember groups of three words. Those who tried to remember by repeating the words didn’t do well, but those who made visual associations with the words did significantly better. Graphics go a long way to ensure your information is memorable.

Diagramming: A ticket to visualization

The importance of incorporating visuals in order for your message to break through the noise, be understood and be remembered is clear. But it’s not always clear how to actually go about representing certain types of information visually. Cue the visual world of diagramming.  

Diagrams can help you visually organize and display nearly any type of information, segmenting it into manageable, memorable chunks. It doesn’t take much to get started. Let’s look at just three examples of diagrams you can easily start using to embrace the power that is visualization.

Concept Maps

Concept maps are excellent for visually representing the relationships between concepts or ideas. They are ideal for presenting new information, as they integrate new and old knowledge to give you a better idea of the big picture. This integration promotes meaningful learning which increases knowledge retention.

Use this comprehensive guide to become a concept mapping guru and learn how to create your own.

Concept Map

Process Maps

A process map helps you visually describe a workflow by using a variety of symbols to map out the series of events that lead to an end result. You can use a process map to help all members of your organization understand how a process is completed and who is involved in that process.

Images explain a process much more clearly than a narrative can. By building a process map, you can identify areas where you can improve efficiency. You can then present visual proof of existing problems such as bottlenecks, repetition and delays, so that everyone can then collaborate on the necessary changes.

Discover more about process maps and how to make them.

process map

Venn Diagram

A Venn diagram illustrates the logical relationships between different items, allowing you to organize and compare them. These diagrams are often used in reports or presentations because of their ability to visualize data in clear, powerful ways. For example, when presenting two different choices, this diagram can clearly convey the similarities and differences more efficiently and concisely than words can.

To learn more, check out this handy a Venn diagram guide.

venn diagram    5 set venn diagram

 

And that’s just scratching the surface of the many diagram types you can utilize to illustrate your message. After all, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a diagram can be worth a thousand and one.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Chart Chat: Mapping the Way to Curricular Clarity

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

We love hearing about the creative ways in which our users apply Lucidchart to solve problems and make their lives easier. We are excited to introduce “Chart Chats,” a new series in which we will highlight one of these unique users each month. Meet Alexandra Yanovski of Temple University.

Alexandra Yanovski has unusual nightmares.  As the Coordinator of Undergraduate Strategic Initiatives at Temple University, her job is to help students stay in school and progress toward graduation. But sometimes her work interferes with a good night’s sleep.

“I’ve literally had nightmares of bouncer-looking guys with course prerequisites written on their t-shirts,” she explains.

What do prerequisites have to do with student retention and graduation rates? Quite a bit, according to Alexandra. She wants to find out why certain students stay in school while others don’t. She looks at both external socioeconomic factors and internal structural factors that can limit students’ progress. After combing the data, she began to suspect that the curricular paths of certain majors were holding students back.

Alexandra

“There is something wrong with the system,” she says, “when a course has 21 prerequisites and 120 seats, but 86 of those seats are overrides.” (An override occurs when a student receives an exemption to take a class without meeting the prerequisites.)

The students weren’t the only ones who were confused. Many instructors didn’t understand how their courses fit into a broader curriculum. Meanwhile, advisors with the power to grant overrides were bogged down with hundreds of requests.

“If you think of every override as a five-minute conversation with an advisor, that can add up to a couple days’ worth of work over a semester,” said Alexandra.

Fortunately, Alexandra found a way to meet the needs of students, instructors and advisors alike—all while cleaning up curricula along the way.

Drawing on the power of drawing

When Alexandra Yanovski was an undergrad at Rutgers University planning her own path to graduation, she ended up drawing a diagram. “I’m a visual person, so I try to understand things from the perspective of flow.”

The same strategy has proven effective at Temple University. For each major, Alexandra and her team have built curricular maps with Lucidchart, a cloud-based diagramming app that’s free for educators. Those maps look something like this:

Curricular map

Each column represents a term. Boxes are courses, with the box color indicating what kind of course it is, such as an elective. Lines connect prerequisites to the subsequent courses.

While the university can’t legally make the maps public, it can offer them to students through their advisors. After filling out a personal copy of a curricular map with an advisor, a student can immediately grasp what classes he or she needs to take and in what order. Similarly, students transferring from another institution can see the minimum number of semesters it will take to graduate.

“It’s like shining a flashlight on a curriculum,” says Alexandra.

Instructors, meanwhile, can get a clearer picture of how a course is intended to prepare students for future courses, allowing them to focus on essential principles. This is particularly useful for majors like engineering and public health, where there can be a chain of six or seven prerequisites.

Resounding results

Most surprising, however, was the number of policy changes that were made as a result of the maps Alexandra and her team created. By the time they finished their first round of curriculum mapping and recommending improvements, the requirements for over 70 majors had changed, some quite significantly.

“The question we kept asking ourselves was, ‘what is it about this program that keeps them from graduating?’” says Alexandra.

Having worked at several institutions of higher education, Alexandra is hopeful that her methods could be applied to the benefit of many schools.

“This doesn’t just apply to higher ed. You can easily map out a curriculum in K-12 as well,” she says.

Alexandra has also mapped out courses on a micro level. One of her responsibilities is to oversee a few seminar series. To make sure that the instructors cover all the necessary topics, she provides them with a visual syllabus, which she also makes in Lucidchart.

She compares a visual syllabus to a flower petal, with each petal containing related lecture topics.

Visual syllabus

The end result of Alexandra’s efforts? “If you eliminate administrative hurdles, you open up the time for more important human-to-human contact.” With the new policies in place, she also expects to see graduation rates rise as students finish school more quickly and with less debt.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Lucidchart for All Your Microsoft Office Needs

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

Microsoft Office 365 and Lucidchart

The human brain can process only a limited amount of information at any given time, and visual information is processed 60,000 times faster than text. Here at Lucid, our goal is to make effective visual communication a daily reality for our users. We’re excited to announce the release of add-ins for Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel. The new add-ins work with Office 2013, Office 2016 and Office 365. From brainstorming to board meetings, these add-ins make it easier to incorporate visual information into any situation.

PowerPoint

The new PowerPoint integration creates a richer, more user-friendly experience. Users can embed static or interactive Lucidchart diagrams that include links, hotspots, layers, panning, zooming and even the Lucidchart presentation mode. Once Lucidchart content is embedded into your PowerPoint slides, you’ll never have to exit the presentation to access diagrams.

The integration makes it possible to create, edit, share and utilize visuals dynamically within your slides:

  • Wireframes: Click through and interact with a wireframe from within the presentation.
  • Diagrams: Turn large, complex diagrams into slides in Lucidchart and embed them in PowerPoint, where the diagram is clickable, zoomable and pannable.
  • Floor plans: Create floor plans with toggles between layers that include seating assignments, furniture, dimensions, etc.
  • Flowcharts: Embed flowcharts that include links to external sites or pages for additional context and examples.

 

PowerPoint integration

 

Word

Word is perfect for word processing, but it isn’t designed for diagramming. The Lucidchart add-in for Word allows users to embed diagrams, mind maps, flowcharts and wireframes to create a professional looking document with key visual elements in less time and with less frustration. The integration will enhance the value of Word documents like reports, proposals, technical documentation, user manuals and more.

 

Word integration

 

Excel

It can be difficult to understand endless numbers on an Excel spreadsheet, but thankfully, the new Excel add-in allows users to easily embed a flowchart or other diagram to help explain processes, calculations and the relationships between data sets. Using the add-in to present this information visually can reduce the learning curve and provide additional context to help readers make sense of the underlying data and analysis.

 

Excel integration

 

Lucidchart also makes it easy to import and export your Visio diagrams (including Visio stencils). Since any imported Visio files are completely editable, you won’t have to recreate old documents in Lucidchart. You can even export Lucidchart documents to a Visio format with the click of a button.

Lucidchart now works with Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, OneDrive and Azure, with even more Microsoft integrations planned. Start thinking visually with our Office 365 integrations today.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Inside a Successful Product Manager’s Toolbox

Posted on by Vicky Thomas

Being a product manager can be hard—especially at a startup where there are infinite tasks vying for your attention and where you can only afford to focus on the most important ones. When a typical day includes analyzing a/b tests, triaging emergency production issues, managing the current programming sprint, interviewing job candidates, responding to questions from the sales team and building a strategic roadmap, it’s difficult (yet essential) to keep the big picture in focus. 

Calendar

Over the years, I’ve built a PM toolbox of (free!) tools and workflows that have helped me stay focused and have dramatically improved my productivity. I’ve even created a few tried and true templates. I’m hoping these tips will help you—my fellow fearless product managers—be even more efficient and successful. Below are my prioritized tasks and favorite tools for the job.

Strategic Planning

OKRs—Objectives and Key Results—are a well-documented and often-discussed goal setting method used by companies like Google and Twitter to ensure everyone is focused on the things that matter most and making tangible quarterly progress towards those goals. The idea is to set a top-level objective, such as “demonstrate significant traction with a professional user base.” You then add three sub-bullets called “Key Results,” such as “bring in xx enterprise accounts by EOQ.” In the ideal world, you’ll have OKRs broken out for the company, for each business unit and department and for each individual employee. At the beginning of 2016, I used our company OKRs to set my cohesive personal quarterly OKRs for the entire year.

Once I have my OKRs for the quarter, I create a spreadsheet with rows as the weeks in the quarter and the columns as the various objectives. For each objective, I fill in the major tasks or deliverables for each week. Although it’s kind of a pain to front-load, this type of planning makes each week’s objectives clear because all my tasks are already defined for me. Doing this frees me up to focus on execution.

Tip: Make sure to include an OKR around personal growth and development.

OKR Spreadsheet

Roadmapping

When I worked at Adobe, our roadmaps lived in PowerPoint slides that were emailed around and posted to wikis. At Lucid Software, we’re in a much earlier stage, which allows our roadmap to be more fluid and flexible. To strike the right balance between having a sufficient plan to communicate to others while maintaining the adaptability I need, I use a combination of Lucidchart, our diagramming app, Google Sheets, and Lucidpress, our design and layout tool. This system is fast, flexible, collaborative when I need it to be and always up to date. Here is what it looks like:

I use Lucidchart for high-level phase planning & communication. This is just a simple example with made up phases to illustrate the point.

 

Roadmap

 

Roadmap

Tip: Put big disclaimers, red fonts or warnings in these types of roadmaps if they’re going to be shared with others…and remember that view-only permissions are your friend!

Feature Definition & Design

After several less-than-awesome attempts to use JIRA, Google Docs and Dropbox for feature definition and design, we’ve come to rely heavily on Confluence. We create a Confluence page for any major project that we’re starting. This Confluence page includes a few key sections: background, user stories/requirements, mockups and open questions. Open questions are the secret sauce that have really unleashed our ability to define features quickly. When questions or skepticism come up, such as How will we deal with xyz edge case, and do we even care? or How does this relate to xyz conceptually-similar-but-we’re-not-yet-sure-exactly-how feature? we put them in the open questions section. As a result, instead of getting hung up on those questions and going down rabbit holes, our team is able to move on with the discussion. We make sure all open questions are answered (and documented) before we start building the story.

Tip: Use JIRA to break down the project into trackable issues, but instead of attaching mockups directly to JIRA cards, upload them to the Confluence page and link to that page from the card. We’ve learned the hard way that mocks uploaded to JIRA cards often result in outdated versions of stories getting built, which results in frustrated developers.

Wiki

 

Sprint Planning & Management

Just this morning, a teammate looked at one of my spreadsheet templates and asked if it was still the 1990s in my brain. I chose to take that as a compliment.

One of my favorite spreadsheets is my sprint velocity and planning template. I refer to it daily and use it to plan each of our two week sprints for a whole quarter. Unlike our JIRA backlog, this spreadsheet allows me to see sprint by sprint our team’s individual and collective capacity, the projects we need to complete, how many points we’re reserving for bugs and production issues and whether we’ll end up ahead of or behind our end-of-quarter project deadlines. These insights then allow me to quickly identify options (cut scope, add developers, push deadlines, etc.), adjust the spreadsheet to see how the different options would play out and communicate those options to involved stakeholders. This sprint velocity spreadsheet also helps me play what I like to call “JIRA Tetris,” which is planning a sprint that doesn’t just add up to the correct number of points for your collective team but also for each team member. Ideally, each team member has the perfect number of story points planned for them based on their individual velocity, and you’re still magically getting the high priority stories built. Trying to plan sprints exclusively in JIRA used to be a major hassle, but it’s a breeze now that I have my spreadsheet. I do still use JIRA to manage our backlog and run our sprints, but all the planning happens in the spreadsheet first.

Tip: Quadruple check that your dates are right and that each sprint is counted only once. I accidentally double-counted a sprint when I first used this spreadsheet and committed our team to 27 points more than we actually had in the quarter. Oops.

Sprint Spreadsheet

Disclaimer: Feel free to click the image above to access the doc for your personal use, but please be sure to make a COPY of the spreadsheet rather than editing the original! 

JIRA

User Interviews

I’ve tried lots of conferencing tools for user interviews, and Uberconference is far and away my favorite. The setup is fast (for both you and the user), the quality is good and the calls can be recorded. We use Google Docs to take notes during the calls, and I make sure to have the questions I want to ask written down ahead of time.

Tips: 1) If you plan to screenshare with Uberconference, be sure both you and the user are on Google Chrome. 2) Have someone else take notes for you during the call, so you can focus on the user. 3) Spend a few minutes at the beginning of the call chitchatting to set a friendly tone—doing so will make you and the user less nervous and more productive.

Presentations

Here at Lucid, we use Lucidpress for all of our presentations. I may be biased, but I think it’s pretty great. A particularly good example of how we use Lucidpress is for our company updates, which are held every other Friday. Each team lead prepares a few slides worth of updates to share with the whole company. Thanks to Lucidpress’ real-time collaboration, everyone can be in the document adding slides at the same time (usually 11:45 am before the 12:00 pm update). We recently launched a few new convenient features in Lucidpress: Brand Assets and Template Locking. These features allow our creative team to define our company default styles and lock down our logo, so that people like me can’t inadvertently mess up company branding. The presentations look great, and everyone is happy.

Tip: Submit your updates an hour ahead of the rest of the crowd to look particularly well-prepared. 😉

Template locking

Admin Tasks

I spend about 40% of my day in various administrative tools, so this post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them. My admin tools of choice are:

  • Gmail
  • Slack (best checked every few hours and closed in the meantime to stay focused)
  • Google Calendar
  • Running Google Docs or Confluence pages to jot down topics for later discussion. It’s hard to think of everything that needs to be covered in a recurring retrospective on the spot, but it’s a lot easier if you record issues over the course of the sprint as they come up.

I also have a few administrative processes that help me stay organized day to day. I don’t think I could do my job effectively without them.

  • I schedule 30 minutes of “Admin Time” at the beginning and end of each day to answer emails, clear my desktop and establish priorities for the day ahead.
  • No meeting Thursdays. Thursday is my reserved time to crank out hard stuff, and I guard my calendar ruthlessly. Sometimes there’s pushback, but usually people understand the need for heads-down time for important work.
  • Every other Friday, I have 30 minutes of “self-sprint planning.” Just like our engineering team, I plan out my work, day by day, for the next two weeks. I have a Google Doc  template that lists each day in a two week period and the standard tasks that need to be done on a given day (i.e. prep for Thursday estimation on the second Tuesday of the sprint). When planning my self-sprint, I list the project priorities at the top of the document and then schedule them alongside the standard tasks that need to get done. I have this document, my email and my calendar up on my desktop at all times. The beauty of this process is that I arrive in the morning knowing exactly what needs to be accomplished that day.

Tip: Just list the big stuff so you don’t get caught up planning more than you need to.

Most days, I still leave the office with a longer to-do list than when I arrived and an unshakeable feeling that I’m not getting enough done. However, over time these tools and workflows have helped me to be more productive, more focused and more efficient. Hopefully, they’ll help you do the same.


Vicky Thomas is the Head of Product Strategy at Lucid Software, makers of top-ranked productivity apps Lucidchart and Lucidpress. Prior to joining Lucid, Vicky was a Product Manager at Adobe, where she was responsible for simplifying the Marketing Cloud implementation process. She is passionate about bringing new ideas to life with teams of exceptional people. Vicky holds an S.B. in Aerospace Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a certificate in Advanced Engineering Leadership from the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a prestigious 2015 Women Tech Award from the Women Tech Council.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

UML Sequence Diagrams Made Easy

Posted on by Jacob Shumway

uml sequence diagram

Here at Lucid Software, we are all about simplifying processes. Our goal is to discover new ways to make your life easier, which is why we’re excited to introduce our UML Sequence Markup feature—aka your one stop for beautiful sequence diagrams created faster with less hassle.

Gone are the days of dragging and dropping each shape to piece together a diagram. This premium tool allows you to generate a UML sequence diagram simply by typing your markup directly into Lucidchart:

  1. Create a new Lucidchart document.
  2. Click “More Shapes”.
  3. Open the UML shapes library.
  4. Select the “Use Markup” button in the UML Sequence category.
  5. Enter your markup in the pop-up dialog that appears. As soon as you click “OK,” the magic happens, generating a sequence diagram that follows Plant UML PlantUML standards for UML markup.

uml sequence markup

It’s intuitive, it’s easy, and it’s fast. You’re able to spend less time trying to create your diagram and more time actually using it.

uml sequence diagram

“When I use Lucidchart, I’m trying to get a job done as quickly as possible. Our new UML sequence markup tool gets me to a great diagram faster, and I’m thrilled to share this time-saving feature with our users. It frees up resources to improve efficiency overall,” said Ben Dilts, our co-founder and chief technology officer here at Lucid Software.

While other tools may perform a similar function, Lucidchart stands out in more ways than one—we’ve managed to narrow it down to our top three.

  1. Lucidchart allows you to re-edit the markup to update a diagram that is on the page. Your diagrams are living documents allowing you to continually refine your creations. Simply click the “Use Markup” button again to add to or edit your markup. When you do so, the spacing is automatically adjusted for a clean and professional feel.
  2. Once your sequence diagram is created, it can be customized with just a few clicks. With complete access to all Lucidchart’s easy-to-use formatting capabilities, you can make your diagram fit your every specification. Pick your theme. Style your lines. Choose your text.
  3. Lucidchart lets you pick and choose your diagramming style. If you’re designing a larger UML sequence diagram that will require constant updating, use markup. If you’re building a simple diagram, feel free to drag and drop shapes from our complete UML library. Or make it a combo deal—get your diagram started with markup and then edit by dragging and dropping. It’s diagramming done your way to fit your needs.

“Lucidchart’s UML Sequence Markup allows users to rapidly create the sequence diagram they need using a simple markup language,” said Brian Pugh, vice president of engineering at Lucid Software. “Then they can take advantage of the full power of Lucidchart’s editing tools to customize the diagram as needed. In short, it allows users to efficiently create visually stunning diagrams.”

Chances are you’re not the only one who’ll be using this diagram, and one of the keys to effective diagramming is collaboration. Once you’ve got your diagram just the way you want it, share it with your colleagues. You’ll be able to choose whether they can view, edit, comment or share the document. Use Lucidchart’s chat feature to collaborate in real time or even start a Google Hangout—all from within your document. Don’t worry about compatibility, as the UML Sequence Markup tool works on every major Internet browser and Internet-enabled device.

Don’t just take our word for it. Check out this comment from one of our users, “I LOVE the new UML Sequence Markup feature! The ability to create/edit diagrams using simple markup is one of the most important features for me. I’d love to see more markup-based diagrams!”

Learn more about our UML Sequence Markup editor and explore Lucidchart’s UML tool.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How many words is a diagram worth?

Posted on by Jacob Shumway

flowchart

This is a guest post by Brad Hanks, VP of marketing at ZipBooks.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many words is a diagram worth?

A lot.

If you’ve ever read a user manual, you probably wished that there were more pictures and fewer words (unless it was from IKEA). The same is probably true of most communication, which is what makes visuals like diagrams so important. Diagrams can save a lot of hassle (i.e., time and money). Here are three reasons why we love using diagrams as we continue to develop our accounting software, ZipBooks:

1) Diagrams cross the language barrier

Globalization isn’t just a buzzword: it’s the way business works today. Large software projects typically span multiple nationalities and languages.

Although most software developers can read and speak English to some degree of competency, the level of comfort varies from person to person. You can assume that written English instructions without any additional context will fall flat with an international audience. Text-based descriptions aren’t even enough in most cases when everyone speaks English as their first language. There’s always a little in-office back-and-forth that you can’t get when someone is located remotely.

Diagrams and flowcharts use symbols to communicate meaning. These symbols are based on an international standard for software development notation called Unified Modeling Language (UML). With UML, you don’t have to speak the same language to understand perfectly what the other person is trying to communicate.

2) Diagrams are built for effective communication

cavepainting

Think back to the earliest days of communication. Before written alphabets, people communicated with images. In using pictures, they found something uniquely compelling, whether for art or instruction, or both.

Even though we communicate largely in text today, we are still hardwired to comprehend images more quickly and clearly than text. In fact, our brains process visuals up to 60,000 times faster than text. Meanwhile, 65% of people learn primarily by seeing, rather than by hearing or doing.

That’s what makes diagrams so powerful at communicating difficult technical concepts. They combine the best of visual and verbal communication to create something truly foolproof, especially when you use a library of shapes with commonly understood interpretations.

3) Diagrams can stand on their own

When done right, a diagram can tell a better story with less followup questions than written instructions. Here’s one example from my experience at ZipBooks.

Our goal is to be a viable alternative to Quickbooks, and we needed a ZipBooks iPhone app sooner rather than later. We ended up hiring a talented iOS developer living in one of most remote places on earth—the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Not only could we not meet with the developer in person, we were working and sleeping on different schedules. Whenever I felt that communication was breaking down on a certain feature request, the first thing I did was reach for my Lucidchart diagramming app.

One particular goal was to minimize the number of clicks a brand new user had to take in order to create a new time-tracking entry in our iPhone app. After trying for a few hours to explain the flow verbally to our developer, we built a diagram that resolved the problem right away:

diagram visual communication flowchart

It may not look like much, but you don’t judge a diagram on how it looks, you judge it on how it works. By that standard, this diagram is a champ.

When should you use a diagram?

You don’t have to wait for communication to break down before you resort to diagramming. Instead, creating diagrams should become something of a habit. At first team members might view diagramming as burdensome and be resistant to the idea, but as your projects start to go more smoothly, your coworkers will be converted.

In the world of software development, I can’t think of a situation where it wouldn’t help to use diagramming on a regular basis. It’s funny how much more I use flowcharting when I make a point of opening my Lucidchart account in a browser tab throughout the day. I never spend more than 15 minutes in Lucidchart at a time because it’s so quick and easy, but I’m convinced those 15 minutes save me a lot of time and frustration down the road by visually communicating my ideas and preventing projects from coming back differently than what I requested.

In my opinion, there is too much typing and not enough diagramming going on in most corners of business. I suggest we start drawing more pictures in order to get better results.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Your Ticket to Easier PCI Compliance

Posted on by Lauren McNeely

PCI Compliance

Beware the breach

Over seven hundred million data records were lost or stolen in 2015—1,346 every minute and 22 every second. Data breaches are becoming more common, with companies such as Sony, JP Morgan Chase, Target and Home Depot among the list of well-known corporate victims.

Data breaches are a serious threat companies can’t afford to take lightly. They can cost organizations in lawsuits, insurance claims, cancelled accounts, payment card issuer fines, government fines and more, with the average corporate data breach reaching $3.79 million. A breach may even shut down a business entirely—60 percent of small businesses close within six months of experiencing a data breach.

Stay secure with PCI DSS

In order to protect consumer credit and debit card information, credit card companies adopted a set of standards that apply to any business dealing with cardholder data. Meeting these Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS) qualifies a business to accept those credit cards online.

According to Rodolphe Simonetti of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, “Compliance needs to be actively maintained. It’s a year-round activity. It should be embedded in the normal business process.”

However, Verizon’s 2015 PCI Compliance Report found that 80 percent of businesses fail their interim PCI compliance assessment, meaning they are left vulnerable to cyberattacks. The same report revealed that of all the companies investigated following a breach over the last ten years, not a single one was found to be fully PCI compliant.

Why everyone hates PCI compliance

Clearly PCI compliance needs to be part of an organization’s overall security. So why is there such disconnect in so many companies? PCI compliance can be a complicated process that also runs the risk of becoming quickly outdated, especially for small to medium-size businesses who have just crossed the threshold requiring them to meet PCI compliance.

One of the time-consuming compliance requirements involves diagramming all the infrastructure that takes payments. Creating a network diagram that makes sense of all those different nodes and connections can be daunting, and it also needs to be continually updated.

The Lucidchart engineering team was all too familiar with how time-consuming PCI compliance can be. The task used to require two days of devoted attention every year to produce a diagram that becomes out of date almost immediately.

One member of the team spent hours digging through Amazon Web Services (AWS) trying to pick out components within the scope of PCI, manually copying data about the systems and determining how they all connect in order to piece together a diagram from scratch. Doing so required finding the information and security rules for each machine, identifying every other machine with which it interacted and then finding that same information for those machines. The alternative to the AWS mining ordeal was to work by memory, but doing so risked serious human error.

How we make PCI compliance easier

Meanwhile, our product development team set out to create an AWS import tool for Lucidchart. The goal: simplify, simplify, simplify. As part of the process, the product and engineering teams outlined how they would like to use such an integration for mapping out PCI compliance.

The result is the Lucidchart AWS import feature—a powerful tool allowing anyone to create a network diagram within minutes, even if they know absolutely nothing about the environment. The engineering team’s two-day PCI nightmare suddenly became a simple task involving only a few minutes and far less manual effort.

Instead of wasting precious time going back and forth between AWS and their own diagram, the engineering team now imports their AWS architecture directly into Lucidchart. A shape library populates, and they can drag-and-drop any piece from the imported list. Each piece dropped onto the Lucidchart canvas includes its name and its relationship to other components. By simply clicking a node, the team can view all of its connections. The tool even pulls in metadata, providing valuable information in areas beyond PCI, such as IP address, port information, instance ID, availability zone and launch time. The simplicity of the process reduces the likelihood of human error.

PCI compliance with AWS import

The rules of PCI apply to a particular subset of users and machines—only those potentially affecting the security of credit card data. Most companies are unclear on how to define what is part of that subset. With the AWS import tool, the engineering team has a visual representation of all nodes, allowing them to clearly identify what is within the scope of PCI and what is not. Companies save both time and money being able to accurately determine what must be included because there are fewer nodes and users involved.

What would normally cost a company at Lucid’s compliance level up to $41,000 in assessments and $81,000 for compliance, now costs Lucid only $2,000. By using the Lucidchart AWS import feature, our engineering team made small-scale changes that avoided impacting more parts of our infrastructure and systems than absolutely necessary. They didn’t have to focus on many services within Lucid’s environment, reducing the complexity of Lucid’s compliance.

You can’t secure what you don’t understand

Without the right tools, determining what PCI compliance involves can be difficult to comprehend; however, the AWS import tool helps make sense of all the complicated information. With a visual representation of PCI, you can easily identify weak spots and determine where controls should be put in place to maintain a secure environment. Systematically created, your diagram is more accurate and not prone to human error. When a new employee joins, they can reference an up-to-date diagram. Thanks to the AWS import, our engineering team gained back precious time and saved the company money, all while staying PCI compliant.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Crossing the CRM Rubicon: Building a Sales Organization Part II

Posted on by Dan Cook

CRM integration

We’re excited to roll out the second half of our series on the key role process plays in building a sales organization.

You’ve heard about “Crossing the Chasm,” but what about “Crossing the Rubicon”?

Turns out a guy named Julius Caesar once led an army across the Rubicon River into Italy in 49 B.C.  This was against the law at the time and marked the beginning of Caesar’s Civil War (and ultimately Caesar’s ascension as the Emperor of Rome). When he crossed the river, he was quoted as saying “the die is cast.”  Since then, the phrase, “Crossing the Rubicon” is often used to reference “any individual or group committing itself irrevocably to a risky or revolutionary course of action” (thanks Wikipedia).  

Lucid Software is no stranger to its own Rubicon River crossings, particularly on the product side.  In 2012, we led the charge as the first integration partner with Google Drive.  Most recently, we launched an automated mapping feature for AWS users.  We’re betting on both of these ecosystems (among others) and aren’t turning back.

One of our Rubicon crossings was building out a sales team to handle our inbound lead volume.  We had introduced a sales process that was working; however, we were tracking all of our activity in a Google Spreadsheet CRM that would’ve been acceptable to an I-banker or consultant. As proud as I was about building this CRM in a Google Sheet, I knew it couldn’t scale.  It was time for a real CRM, which meant it was also time for another Rubicon crossing.

To be honest, we didn’t spend too much time shopping around.  We looked into the CRM formerly known as RelateIQ (acquired by Salesforce.com), SugarCRM and Salesforce.com.  Given the aniticpated amount of custom development work that would be necessary for us to use a CRM effectively, as well as having a few sales reps with Salesforce.com experience, we decided to move ahead with Salesforce.com.

Lucid did not have an in-house Salesforce admin at the time, so we decided to partner with Simplus (formerly known as Outbox Systems). Our first task was to design the backend in Salesforce. Salesforce provides a schema builder that allows technical administrators to view and modify all the objects and relationships that our Simplus partner would use to build our Salesforce instance; however, we decided to utilize our ERD shape library to build our schema in real time over a conference call with the Simplus team.

CRM integration process

A key benefit to using Lucidchart for schema building was our ability to incorporate the third-party apps that we were planning on integrating with Salesforce.  For example, in the diagram above, we mapped out how we wanted our payment processing software Recurly to integrate with Salesforce.

While the Simplus team built our Salesforce instance, we went to work designing our preferred workflow in Salesforce.  We used Lucidchart to design these workflows in order to ensure they were built according to our spec:

CRM integration process

A key focus was designing workflows in Salesforce that automated certain activities.  Below are a few examples of workflow rules that we mapped out in Lucidchart to incorporate into our Salesforce design.

  • Using a round-robin system to allocate leads equitably among the sales reps
  • Creating notifications to sales reps when (a) they received a new lead and (b) they hadn’t responded to a lead
  • Calculating commissions on deals sold

We hopped on a phone call and were able to collaborate in real time with the Simplus team via a shared Lucidchart document. They utilized Lucidchart’s comments feature to communicate questions or edits when we were offline.

The final piece of our Salesforce implementation was around the actual user experience.  We were sensitive to designing Salesforce in a way that was thoughtful and yet had a level of organization.  We utilized Lucidchart’s mock-up capabilities to actually design rough drafts of how we wanted the layout of our Salesforce objects to appear:

CRM integration process

As a result of our doing some of this design work upfront, Simplus was able to spend more time building and less time on trial-and-error.  While the end result looks very different from our rough mock-ups, our input provided Simplus with clarity and helped us beat our deadline for Salesforce deployment.

The result of using Salesforce for managing and tracking leads and opportunities has been phenomenal.  We’ve now built trainings in Lucidchart that help our new reps learn the workflow, and we’ve been able to scale our team far more quickly than would have been possible with my Google Sheets CRM.

We crossed the CRM Rubicon and haven’t looked back since.  Caesar would be proud.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

HipChat and Slack Integrations

Posted on by Ashlee Burt

hipchat-slack@2x

Over the past few months, we’ve launched successful, free integrations with messaging platforms Slack and HipChat. You might be wondering what the value is of integrating Lucidchart, a diagramming application, with these apps. It’s simple: they help us make visual collaboration and knowledge sharing easier for our users.

We want Lucidchart to work where our users work. HipChat and Slack are the latest in a string of our integrations (Confluence, JIRA, Google Apps, Office 365 and Jive, just to name of few) that make Lucidchart diagrams easier to create, share and use. The value of these integrations can be seen with a large number of our team accounts quickly integrating with Slack or HipChat within the first months of the integration launches.

Teaming up with these messaging platforms increases Lucidchart’s already collaborative cloud-based functionality in important ways. First, you can easily kickoff real-time group whiteboarding and collaboration, no matter where in the world your team members are located.

 

Create new diagrams and start real-time visual collaboration from Slack or HipChat

Create new diagrams and start real-time visual collaboration from Slack or HipChat

Second, when you post a Lucidchart diagram to Slack or HipChat, team members can instantly see and comment from an app they’re already using. It makes it easy to reference visual documentation during group discussions.

Teams cans easily post visual documentation to Slack or HipChat for sharing and referencing

Teams cans easily post visual documentation to Slack or HipChat for sharing and referencing

Slack integration

With our Slack integration, Lucidchart users are able to use the integration both in private group channels and in direct messages between users. This is particularly valuable if your team is using the private group feature.

Just typing “/” in Slack opens up a list of available options that help users find the /lucidchart command to create new Lucidchart documents. It’s [title] hint also gives users a nice reminder to name their diagram.

Slack slash command

HipChat integration

Lucidchart’s integration with HipChat’s Input action (the small button near the chat bar) makes it easier to use for those that are unfamiliar with the standard “/” slash command used in both Slack and HipChat. This feature also helps discoverability for users who aren’t aware that the Lucidchart add-on has been installed.

Create menu in HipChat

Additionally, the Glance functionality allows you to pin important Lucidchart documents, like network diagrams, project documentation and support processes, in a team chat room for easy reference without leaving the chat. This can help make Lucidchart or other documents easier to reference without searching.

Glances

One small drawback at the moment is that Lucidchart is not yet available for HipChat Server. This has been an issue for some customers, particularly larger enterprises that are using the Server version. We plan to make this available as soon as it is released by HipChat.

Conclusion

Lucidchart itself works seamlessly with both HipChat and Slack, offering the core functionality as described above. While both messaging apps offer similar features to end users, they provide surprisingly different APIs to developers.

By integrating with enterprise chat tools like HipChat and Slack, Lucidchart users can increase collaboration, sharing and productivity across their teams. Try out our HipChat and Slack integrations, and let us know what you think.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment