Excel: Draw Business Diagrams with Excel

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Problem: My manager needs me to graphically document the steps in a project plan.

Strategy: Excel offers 180+ types of diagrams in a tool called SmartArt.

When you choose Insert, SmartArt from the ribbon, the Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog box that appears shows graphic types arranged in seven groups: Many layouts are repeated in the Picture group. Additional layouts are available from Office.com.

  1. Choose a graphic type from the seven groups.

    Here are the seven main groups offered in SmartArt:

    • List - You can use these charts to illustrate a series of items. Although a list has a certain sequence, there are usually not arrows to indicate that the list contains a series of steps.
    • Process - Process charts are similar to list charts, but the shapes are connected by arrows or the shapes themselves are arrows.
    • Cycle - Cycle charts are process charts where the last step in the process has an arrow pointing back to the first step in the process. These are great for illustrating continuous improvement.
    • Hierarchy - Hierarchy charts are used for organizational charts and as outlines for books or projects.
    • Relationship - This category is a catchall for 31 different types. It offers formula diagrams, gear charts, funnel charts, balance charts, containment charts, Venn diagrams, and more. If you need to illustrate competing ideas, turn to this category.
    • Matrix - This category offers charts with four quadrants or four quadrants and a title.
    • Pyramid - This category offers shapes stacked in either an upright or an inverted pyramid.

    Most SmartArt chart types offer an unlimited number of shapes. A list chart can illustrate 3 items or 17 items without a problem. However, some chart types are limited. For example, a gear chart can illustrate only 3 concepts, and several arrow charts can illustrate only 2 items. When you click on a thumbnail in the Choose a SmartArt Graphic dialog, the description on the right will indicate whether the graphic is limited to a certain number of shapes.

  2. The Block Cycle chart looks best with only Level 1 text.

    The thumbnails often indicate whether the diagram is suitable for Level 1 or Level 1 and Level 2 text. Think of a PowerPoint slide. If you have bullet points, those are Level 1 text. If you have bullets and sub-bullet points, those are Level 1 and Level 2 text. Some charts don't do well with both Level 1 and Level 2 text. Below is a Block Cycle chart. The top chart includes only Level 1 text. In the lower chart, some Level 2 text is added to the first point. This causes all the Level 1 text throughout the chart to get unusually small.

    In contrast, the Vertical Box List chart is designed with accent boxes to hold long sentences of Level 2 text.

    The next seven topics discuss how to create and modify SmartArt graphics.

  3. The Vertical Box List chart offers ample room for Level 2 text.

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