Month: May 2014

Lean Startup Success: The Forbes Interview of SmartDraw CEO Paul Stannard in 1994, Lean wasn’t actually a thing. In fact, the Internet was barely a thing. But that’s when Paul Stannard founded SmartDraw—and without even realizing it at the time, he had launched a Lean Startup.Measure-build-learn feedback loop image

Was SmartDraw the first example of lean startup success? That is probably a stretch. But there’s no question the company is both lean and successful.

Today more than half of the Fortune 500 use SmartDraw. So do more than a quarter of a million organizations and enterprises around the world. (Click this link to read Paul’s blog post celebrating the 20th anniversary of SmartDraw.)

The Lean Startup philosophy was first proposed by entrepreneur Eric Reis in 2011. It follows three basic principles: be innovative, create something useful, and don’t waste time and resources doing it. It runs on the build/measure/learn feedback loop.

Interestingly enough, these principles were at the very core of SmartDraw from the beginning—and still are.

Today, things have come full circle. The Lean tools in SmartDraw are now used by entrepreneurs, managers, and organizational leaders as they set out to achieve their own lean startup success.

Leadership author Rodger Dean Duncan recently interviewed the SmartDraw founder and CEO to get his thoughts as to how entrepreneurs in today’s world can achieve lean startup success. Much of his advice is taken from real-life lessons—and not all of them were victories.

“My first startup ultimately failed. The Lean Startup idea encapsulates many of the lessons I learned from this.” – Paul Stannard

Click here to read the Forbes magazine interview.


SmartDraw FAQ: Fantastic Awesome Questions | SmartDraw Mailbag

Photo credit Erich Ferdinand via Wikimedia Commons
Photo credit: Erich Ferdinand via Wikimedia Commons

Our SmartDraw mailbag feature was quite popular the first time we did it, so I’m going to dig into it again. Our customers ask some pretty terrific questions. I hope you find our answers, along with several tips and tricks, equally terrific. Let’s get right to it.

I am a beginner and need guidance with making professional organizational charts.

-Cecilia G.

Hi Cecilia, I have great news. You can find a wealth of information about making organizational charts on our website. For example, this article gets into the basics of what an org chart is, how it’s structured, and what kind of information should be shown in org chart boxes. We have other articles including an org chart tutorial (with a video included), some tips for making org charts, and even how to create your org chart in SmartDraw by importing data from a data file. Hopefully, that will get you started. If you still have issues or need some help, I encourage you to call or email our awesome support team. Not only are they really nice, but the support is free. How can you beat a deal like that?

Super program, but I´d like to be able to format dates to European standard (day/month/year) and change the headline of columns in the project plan.

-Lisbet L.

Ciao, Hola, Bonjour, Halla, Guten Tag, Hei, Lisbet! I can you help with that—here’s what you do.

Open up your project file in SmartDraw. Click “File” in the upper left-hand corner of the menu. Then scroll down and click “Options.” This will open a window that has the heading, “Spelling, Date, and Time.” Go to the “Date Format” line and click the box. This will allow you to change your date format to the European “DD/MM/YY” standard. How to change the time and date format in a SmartDraw project You’ll also note a couple of other things here that will help you customize your SmartDraw experience, depending upon the default settings you may have. You can change your dictionary language to a number of European languages and dialects. You can also set your time format to a 24-hour day rather than a 12-hour day.

As for changing the headings in your project plan columns, that’s easy to do, as well. Just double-click on the title you want to change. This will highlight it. Now, simply type in the new title and… voila! (See what I did with the French right there?) How to change column headings in a SmartDraw project I was searching for Visio and your demonstration appeared. I have made my first floor plan with SmartDraw and am thrilled.

-Michelle R.

We never get tired of hearing comments like yours, Michelle. SmartDraw is all about making your life easier. Visio is a very good program, but a lot of people agree it’s time-consuming to learn and tough to use. Call me biased (I totally am), but I think our development team has done a wonderful job of making SmartDraw easier to use and faster to learn than Visio. Plus, anyone can produce a higher-quality, more professional-looking result than you’ll get with any other diagramming tool. Thanks for writing in. Stay in touch and let us know how you like SmartDraw for creating flowcharts and other graphics.

My interest is in process, software architecture & design, meeting actions, strategic planning. I’m buying SmartDraw Enterprise as an individual as I believe it will help my career.

-Rob B.

That’s great, Rob. I’m quite confident that you’ll discover many ways that SmartDraw Enterprise will help you advance your career. Have you tried the Lean diagrams yet? If not, try them out and let us know what you think. I find using Kanban boards to be a great way of staying on top of my “to-do” list.

Still waiting on electronic scrum!

-Sandra H.

Photo link to "The Unforgettable Buzz" book about the history of electric football
Photo credit: “The Unforgettable Buzz”

For some reason, Sandra, this visual came to my mind when you said “electronic scrum.” I imagine most of our readers are too young to remember electric football. But when I was a little kid, we all wanted one of these things—even though there was no way to replicate anything that even resembled a real football game. (Most of the players just turned and headed toward the corners—others would just spin around in circles, or flop onto their backs and do the “gator.”)

But obviously, you’re talking about scrum tools for agile development. Have you checked out the electronic Kanban boards we’ve added in SmartDraw CI? They’re designed to be as easy to use as the old sticky notes on a whiteboard (aren’t those almost as archaic as electric football?). You can add lanes for stories, progress status, and completion. We use SmartDraw electronic Kanban boards on a projection screen during meetings. It’s easy to add and move cards, assign tasks, etc. And then the file is shared online with the whole team, so everyone has anywhere/anytime access.

SmartDraw also gives you two alternative ways of organizing your Kanban board. The assignment view lets you enter the names of people on the team, and then drag cards into their lanes. The category view allows you to organize cards by parent task.

Of course, SmartDraw also has easy-to-use charting tools for tracking burn up and burn down. With SmartDraw, you can easily input data from an Excel table. But it isn’t necessary to create a spreadsheet. Just input your data directly into the chart. Example of burn-up chart created in SmartDraw

SmartDraw also lets you easily plan in a mind map, convert to Gantt chart or timeline with a simple click, and keep everyone on the team up to date with online sharing through your SmartDraw account.

Plus, you get faster and easier flowcharting tools than Visio, and other tools such as UML diagrams, data flow diagrams, and web design tools for wireframes and web site maps. All included in one program. I need to stop now. I’m sounding like a commercial.

Can my current SmartDraw version be upgraded to CI?

-Christina D.

Yes, Christina. Please check out this link to upgrade to SmartDraw CI.

If I buy SmartDraw Business, could I upgrade to SmartDraw Enterprise later at a discount?

-Martin B.

Yes you can, Martin. Click this link to upgrade your version to SmartDraw Enterprise.

With only one license, will I be able to display SmartDraw files created on my laptop from my tablet? Or does this require another license? (This is for my use only.)

-Jeff M.

Hi, Jeff, great question. Yes, you can view the files you create on your tablet device through your SmartDraw account. It’s free to set up and use. If you use an iPad, we have a free app for you. For more information about your SmartDraw account and accessing your files on any device, see this page.

You can also use your SmartDraw account to share your files with anyone you want. They don’t even have to be SmartDraw users. All they have to do is to just set up their own free account to view the files you share (they won’t be able to edit them).

And remember, if you have any questions or need help, our fantastic customer support team is ready to assist… drop us a call or an email.

Emergency and Disaster Planning | 10 Critical Procedures to Follow

Firemen fight three-alarm fire in Houston in 1986.Critical emergency and disaster planning can’t wait. Because when an emergency situation arises, it’s too late to plan.

Now is the time to take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of everyone in your facility during an emergency. Not only is it good business practice; in most places, it is also the law. Here are some tips to help you develop and implement an emergency exit plan today.

Emergency and Disaster Planning Procedures

  1. Create a basic floor plan diagram in black and white. Keep diagrams simple. Avoid including extraneous colors and features.
  2. Make sure to prominently show primary and secondary exit locations.
  3. Never use elevators in an emergency evacuation plan.
  4. Do not designate a restroom as an emergency exit. Even if it has a window that employees could get out of, it is not a good idea to use windows for evacuation.
  5. Design exit paths away from rooms containing potentially hazardous materials.
  6. Do not designate narrow passageways for emergency exits as there may not be enough room to accommodate an emergency evacuation situation.
  7. Make sure your workplace is equipped with signs reading “Exit” with an arrow pointing in the direction of the nearest emergency exit if the path is not immediately apparent.
  8. Designate an assembly area that is safely clear of the building. This should be shown on the emergency evacuation plan. All employees should gather at this place in an emergency.
  9. Designate exits with wheelchair access.
  10. Make sure to clearly indicate the employee’s current position on the map. This may require making several versions of the emergency evacuation plan for various areas throughout the facility.

Other Action Items to Do Today to Implement an Emergency and Disaster Plan

SmartDraw emergency and disaster planning tools let you quickly and easily create exit plans and other diagrams for critical situations.

  1. Create your emergency and disaster plans with SmartDraw, then print and post them throughout the facility. It’s best to have them framed and mounted in convenient places.
  2. Designate responsibilities to specific people in an emergency evacuation situation, with one person having primary accountability for emergency planning and procedures.
  3. Set up periodic practice drills so everyone understands what to do in an emergency evacuation situation. These walk-through drills will also help you to identify any areas of concern that need to be addressed now.
  4. Enroll in the Red Cross Ready Rating™ program.
  5. Get more information about emergency management from FEMA including downloading their emergency guides here.

Editor’s note: This post was on our editorial calendar long before the San Diego region was hit by wildfires this week. We want to extend our sincere thanks to the firefighters and emergency personnel who have worked so hard. Our thoughts and wishes go out to our employees, customers, friends, and neighbors at this difficult time.

The Best Teacher in the World was lucky enough to have the best teacher in the world.

Sadly, it was as I was reading the news recently of the teacher in Leeds, UK who was stabbed to death in her classroom that this thought even came to my mind. Mrs. Ann Maguire was described by her students as “the best teacher we ever had.”

So I dedicate this post in honor of Mrs. Maguire, and all of the best teachers in the world, including a wonderfully brilliant and unique one that I was fortunate to know.

He had a number of unusual traits one might not expect of the best teacher in the world. He was merciless, cruel, unfeeling, and just plain scary. He was very much like Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase. There was no chance to sit back and daydream through a dull lecture. This heartless beast taught using the Socratic Method: endless, back-and-forth questions, answers, and follow-up questions.

It didn’t matter whether you volunteered to participate or not, if your name was called, you had a choice: answer the question intelligently or risk public humiliation.

My fellow classmates and I studied our required reading assignments in groups, so that we’d be better prepared for the inevitable—that terrifying moment of horror. The moment when you heard your name called. When you had to stand alone under the intense spotlight and face the challenge of being equal to its brilliance.

I completely hated this man—at the time. I had to know the material before every class, be able to analyze it, and then be prepared to debate it in an openly hostile setting. It isn’t fair! I thought, my young skull full of mush not yet even capable of understanding the concept of fairness.

The final exam was an excruciating trip through fire. Two nearly sleepless nights were devoured studying to make sure that I had soaked up every ounce of knowledge I could possibly absorb. And when it was over, I realized something. This cruel monster had taught me how to learn and how to think.

What an amazingly kind, selfless, and wonderful gift.

The SOB was Professor J. Eldon Fields of the University of Kansas. The best teacher in the world—at least, in my world. Thank you, Prof. Fields, may you rest in peace. And if I might ask a favor, would you please help Mrs. Maguire find a nice, peaceful place there too.

To both of them, and to all of the other best teachers in the world, thank you. Your students are eternally grateful.

Save Water with These 5 Landscape Planning Tips

plumbing-1002110_1280The hot, dry summer season is rapidly approaching. In many parts of the world, including here in California, drought conditions are wreaking havoc on water supplies. Many jurisdictions are asking residents to voluntarily cut back on water usage. Mandatory rationing is possible.

But wherever you live, landscape planning that uses native and drought-tolerant plants can conserve water, save money, and look attractive, as well.

How to Create a Water-Saving Landscape Plan

  1. Start with a base map. This is a plot of the design area. It will include static elements such as property lines, buildings, driveways, and other features that will not change. It’s also a good idea to mark public utility lines on the base map.
  2. Survey the characteristics of the property. Observe natural features of the property, such as areas of sun and shade. You should also note the site’s natural drainage pattern. Landscape planning that follows natural contours, such as placing water-loving plants in naturally low-lying areas or areas of moisture-retaining clayey soil, will give you better long-term results. You should also note other needs, such as privacy screening or planting to block an objectionable view.
  3. Determine the functions of yard areas. Will your rear yard be used for outdoor entertaining or a kickball field? Is the side yard going to be an herb garden or used for extra parking? Design around how you intend to use the various components of the property.
  4. Create planting zones by water needs. Taking all of the above factors into account, create zones in your landscape that are defined by water requirements. Try and keep plants needing more water to lower, shadier areas, for example.
  5. Select appropriate plants. This will be determined by the climate zone you live in and the characteristics specific to your property. Use plants that are native to your area or are suitable to your climate zone. If you’re in a dry zone, but want to use some plants that need extra irrigation, plant them in as small a zone as possible and limit them to areas where they can be seen and enjoyed.

Mind map of the data that follows, with a background photo of a water-saving landscape

Xeriscape: The Economical, Functional and Beautiful Solution

Your front yard doesn’t have to look like a gravel pit to drastically reduce water usage. A concept known as xeriscape (translated from Greek, it means “dry scene”) has gained in popularity in recent years. The main reason, of course, is to save water. But there are other benefits, too. Xeriscapes require much less time and effort to maintain, further saving money for the homeowner.

Xeriscaping can also be functional. For example, you may want to include some trees, plants and herbs that provide food for your family.

With a little planning and creativity, a xeriscape can also be extremely beautiful.

Landscape plan created with SmartDraw


Click here to see our video, “Creating Landscapes with SmartDraw.”