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Business Process Charting
Pro v. 5.0
by The Ben Graham Corp.

System requirements: 486 or better PC, Windows 3.1 or higher, CD-ROM and VGA monitor.

Price: Basic: $189.95; Professional: $495

Contact: The Ben Graham Corp.
6600 S. Troy Frederick Road
Tipp City, OH 45371
Telephone: (937) 667-3380
Fax: (937) 667-8690

Charting for Work Simplification
Business Process Charting
Professional v. 5.0

You won't find a fancy user interface in The Ben Graham Corp.'s Business Process Charting software, but you will find an incredibly solid, straightforward process-charting package specifically designed around the Graham method of process charting for work simplification, developed by Ben Graham Sr. during the 1950s.

 What sets this methodology and software apart from traditional flowcharting packages is the focus on charting the path of all items in a process (e.g., documents, products, e-mail, files, parts, etc.). Think of it as creating a separate flowchart for each process item, putting these together on one chart and then showing their interactions.

 Each process item is given its own horizontal line. One of eight ASME/ANSI standard process improvement symbols, plus a short explanatory text, is used for each process step. The eight symbols represent transportation, storage or delay, inspection, handling, a physical change operation (for manufacturing operations), an origination operation (for information processes), add/alter, or destroy. Various connecting symbols denote decisions, split paths, effects (when one item is used to affect another) and rejoins (when two or more items come together).

 Unlike most process-charting software, Business Process Charting maps processes along a horizontal line, and all automatic connection tools and features are so tailored. With vertical layouts, a chart is almost unusable once it reaches three or four feet in length. With a horizontal layout, the process map can be as long as you need. Printing a big chart worked well. Using a paper cutter and tape, we easily spliced together a long horizontal chart.

 Because process maps can get large, the software includes some nice navigation and correction features. The package allows any step to be linked to another chart, another program or a help file. A global search-and-replace text feature makes it easy to change names or terms throughout the entire document. A spell checker quickly found misspelled words, although, alas, it didn't make spelling suggestions. This will be corrected in the next release. An undo feature allows users to undo commands all the way back to the last time the document was saved.

 The non-Windows-standard user interface takes a bit of getting used to. Symbols are placed on the layout grid using a pick-and-stick method, a carryover from the program's early DOS days, rather than drag-and-drop. The user picks the desired symbol from the menu bar with a mouse click and sticks it to the layout grid at the desired location with another click. When a new symbol is placed to the right of an existing symbol, a connecting line is drawn automatically.

 Although placing symbols is straightforward, moving, copying, cutting or pasting them is a different story. You must go through several mouse clicks to do anything to an object or line segment on the grid. It's in this realm of manipulating symbols and segments that this package could really make some improvement. The ability to click on an object at any time to select it for copy, cut or move would speed work up considerably. The software does prevent objects or line segments from being moved or pasted over existing elements.

 The software handles text well, although there is a limit to how much text can be assigned to a text block. This is a small issue, however, because text for process steps is usually terse.

 The process analysis features of the software are simple and useful. Depending on the step, each step can be annotated with the time required, person responsible, location, transport from, transport to and transport distance. During data analysis, the program will give total time for the process, total value-added time, total nonvalue-added time, total transport time and total delay time. This can be done for the entire chart, a line or a segment.

 Business Process Charting is capable of taking all of the notes and actions text that were input for each step and converting them into a procedure, called Playscript. If the person developing the chart follows some simple text-inputting guidelines, the Playscript output is a surprisingly coherent step-by-step description of who does what and in what order.

 The documentation and online help was very good. The Business Process Methodology for Work Simplification primer was succinct and easy to understand, and the two user manuals provided clear directions for getting started.

 The package is specifically tailored to this particular methodology, but that shouldn't put you off. The package has a broad scope of application, and there is a lot to be said for specific-purpose software tools, such as Business Process Charting, that do one job well.

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