Doing more with Activities

In Process Navigator, the steps you perform to produce your Outputs are represented by Activities.

Most things you do can be represented as steps of a process, not just work-related processes. For example, most of us take an annual holiday. The overall process is “Take a Holiday”. Like every process, it can be broken down into a set of activities (or sub-processes) that help you understand exactly what the wider process involves. What are the steps involved in organising this trip?
  • Find a resort.
  • Book a hotel.
  • Book the travel tickets.
  • Check that any inoculations you need are up to date.
  • Check that travel documentation such as visas and passports are valid.
  • Pack the case.
  • Travel to the airport.
  • Enjoy the break.

TIP: Note how each of the Activities begins with a verb. This is a good indicator that you have an Activity.

Breaking down an Activity in this way (sometimes referred to as Activity decomposition) is achieved using Activity drill-down.

Activity Drill-down

To drill down on an Activity, double-click it. Process Navigator will take you to a new Node with links back to the main Activity.

Double-click the Activity and the Double-Click Warning dialog will appear.

If you are sure you want to drill down, click Yes.

NOTE: This dialog will only appear on the first drill down on a shape. Subsequent drill-downs will go directly to the drill-down page providing that the file you are drilling to is open.

This sets up a new Node for you to add in the Activity breakdown. Notice that the new Node is named the same as the Activity from which you drilled.

NOTE: There are now two hyperlinks linking the two pages which are based on text. These can easily be broken if either the Activity name or the lower level process map Node name is altered (please see Dissociating a Node to avoid breaking the hyperlinks).

Any Inputs and Outputs that are connected to the Activity are also carried down as shown below.

To go back to the previous page, double-click the up arrow at the bottom-left of the Node.

When you get back to the top level process map, you will see that the Activity that you drilled down upon now has a shadow. The shadow is a visual cue that the shape has further information behind it – a drill-down.

Deleting a Drill-Down

To delete a drill-down, go to the bottom of the page and select the tab that was created when you drilled down. Right-click the tab and select Delete page. This will delete the drill-down page, the hyperlink from the top level shape to that drill-down page and the shadow on the shape.

Parent and Children Deliverables

The Inputs and Outputs that are carried down from the upper-level map when drilling down are known as children. Their corresponding parents are located on the upper-level map.

If you right-click a child Deliverable on the lower-level map and select Properties from the menu, you will see that the Properties dialog of that Deliverable shows the name of the parent Deliverable.


Renaming Parent Deliverables

There may be an occasion when you need to rename one of the parent Deliverables. In this case, if the shape is only being renamed, then the child will recognise the new parent automatically.

In the example below, the Parent Deliverable ‘Vacant Position’ has been renamed to ‘Vacancy’.

TIP: To rename a shape, simply select the shape, select F2 and type in the name.


Drill down again on the Activity and you will see that the parent property has been updated, but the name of the child has not been changed.  


An orphan Deliverable has no valid parent. This usually happens when a Deliverable has been deleted from a higher level map without deleting its children from the lower level maps. Process Navigator automatically turns orphan Deliverables red.

The purpose of highlighting orphans is to ensure that your maps remain consistent throughout the levels. For example, if you decided to delete a Deliverable from a higher level map, then any child Deliverable below will turn red because it does not recognise a parent Deliverable in the higher level map. In addition, if you add a Deliverable to the lower level map, it would not have a valid parent on the higher level map so it would also turn red when connected to other shapes. There are several options you have from this point.

Deleting Orphans

To delete the orphan, simply select the orphan and delete it.

Overriding Orphan Behaviour

You have the option to ignore the orphan by right-clicking the orphan Deliverable and selecting Override Orphan.

The Deliverable will remain an orphan but will not be coloured red.


This is useful if you are adding Deliverables to the lower-level maps that do not have parent Deliverables on the higher-level maps.

Allocating a New Parent

Allocating a new parent to a Deliverable is useful if you add lower-level Deliverables (e.g. standards) that you don’t want to appear on a higher-level map.

For example, if you add a new input Deliverable to the lower level map called ‘Employee Qualification Requirement’, a subsequent drill-down from the top-level map will colour ‘Employee Qualification Requirement’ red. This is due to the fact that a parent has not been allocated for this Deliverable.

You can allocate the parent of an orphan to match that of an existing parent Deliverable by right-clicking the orphan Deliverable and selecting Properties. Select the parent from the drop-down list.

If you decide to delete a parent Deliverable from the top level map such as ‘Vacant Position’ and drop a new one in its place called ‘Vacancy’ and you have previously drilled-down, the child Deliverable of the deleted parent Deliverable ‘Vacant Position’ will remain on the lower level map. If you subsequently drill-down again, the child Deliverable of ‘Vacancy’ will drop right onto and conceal the previous orphan. Simply move the shape so that the orphan is visible as shown below.

If you want to keep the previous child Deliverable, delete the new child Deliverable ‘Vacancy’ and right-click the orphan ‘Vacant Position’ and select Properties

In the Parent field, select the new parent Deliverable from the drop-down list.

The Deliverable changes back to blue immediately.

NOTE: You can also delete orphan Deliverable and take the new child Deliverable.

Troubleshooting Orphans

Below are some questions to consider if an orphan Deliverable appears.

  • Has the parent Deliverable been deleted from the map?
  • Have you deleted the connector between the parent Deliverable and Activity?
  • Is the connector glued properly to the parent Deliverable and Activity?
  • Has the Deliverable been added to a lower-level map but not added to the higher-level map?

How to collapse Deliverables

You can use orphan handling techniques to tidy your process maps. The technique of collapsing Deliverables can be used if you find that you have too much detail (too many inputs or outputs) on the top level map, and you would like to hide that detail but retain it in a lower level process map.

For example, you have a top level process map that has 4 or more inputs and you would like to just have one representative input for these four inputs.

Drill-down on the Activity by double-clicking the Activity shape. Another process map will be created which will bring down the inputs and outputs from the top level to the lower level.

Use the up arrow at bottom left to drill back up to the top level process map, select one of the inputs and rename it to something that would represent the all the inputs; e.g. Order.

Delete the remaining inputs and their connectors. Select the Process Navigator menu > Auto-Layout.


Drill-down on the Activity shape again to the lower level process map. The inputs that you deleted from above will now be red which signifies that they are orphans.

Right-click each orphan Deliverable and select Properties from the menu. A Properties dialog will appear to which you can allocate a parent  for the orphaned input, e.g. Order. This will change each of your orphans back to blue Deliverables.

Create the lower level process map.

One thing to remember is that when you collapse Deliverables, you will need to consider where those Deliverables might link through to when Process Navigator runs Off-Page Connectors. Process Navigator, by default, links Deliverables on the same level. So, if you have used the collapsing Deliverable technique, you will need to ensure that Deliverables on other process maps that link to your process map will be on the same level as well. Otherwise you will need to ensure that the option to link across levels is set in Process Navigator. Please refer to Enforce Level Matching for further information on this.

This technique is also useful for analysts to use when Generating Next Level with Process Navigator.

Converting From an Activity to a Decision or from a Decision to an Activity

A Decision is almost identical to an Activity, so much so that Process Navigator lets you change from Activity to Decision and vice versa by right-clicking an Activity and selecting Decision.

The Outputs from a Decision, however, are mutually exclusive, i.e. only one of the Outputs is produced, not all of them as with an Activity.

Use Decisions sparingly. If the map you are drawing has a lot of decision points on it, a flowchart might be a better means of representing it.

To convert an Activity to a Decision, right-click the Activity and select Decision.

Editing the Properties of an Activity

An Activity has characteristics and measurements which help describe it more accurately. Process Navigator enables you to record these characteristics behind each Activity.

To do this, right-click the Activity and select Properties.

Naming an Activity

The name of the Activity needs to be meaningful, informative and short. Any name can be chosen in the Name field. If the text is too large to fit inside the Activity, this indicates the name is too long. However, you are free to re-size the Activity or the text to accommodate where necessary.

A shape can be re-sized by selecting it and using the green re-size handles.

Use the Description field to give more information about the Activity. This is restricted to 252 characters (about 44 words). To find out how the description of a shape can be made to appear in the mouse-over of HTML files, please refer the Process Navigator’s Publish to HTML Wizard’s Use description where available option
The ID field allows you to store a unique ID against each Activity.

The Level field allows you to store which level in the hierarchy the Activity sits. This is manually maintained.

Displaying Level & ID Fields on Activities

To display the Level and ID fields inside the Activity shape, right-click the drawing page, select Options and then select the General tab. Turn on Display Level & ID fields on Activities.

Displaying Responsibilities on Activities

To display the Level and ID fields inside the Activity shape, right-click the drawing page, select Options and then select the General tab. Turn on Display Responsibility fields on Activities.
With this option turned on, you can display the appropriate job role that performs the function so users of the process maps can quickly and easily identify a job role involved in that task

Adding and Removing Inputs and Outputs

Right-click the Activity and select Properties. Use the left and right arrows to move Inputs and Outputs into (adding) and out of (removing) the Inputs and Outputs list boxes.

TIP: You can select multiple items in the Available Deliverables box by holding down the CTRL key while left-clicking.

You can also remove an Input or an Output by deleting the connector between it and the Activity.

TIP: Process Navigator interprets any connector as a valid flow, so manually adding connectors is fine provided they are properly glued. When manually adding connectors, they must begin at the Input and end at the Activity, or begin at the Activity and end at the Output. Process Navigator interprets direction of flow from the direction of connection, so you must be careful to get this right. It is not sufficient to have arrowheads pointing in the right direction because arrowheads can be formatted to go against the flow.

Connection Points

Process Navigator allows you to determine the number and placement of the connection points on an Activity or a Decision.

To do this, right-click your Activity or Decision and select Properties. Select the Connection Points tab and the above dialog box will appear. Move the slider on each side of the shape to the number of connection points you want.

Process Navigator will evenly distribute the connection points along the side of the shape.

Cross-File Drill-Down

Process Navigator allows you to drill down from Deliverables or Activities to content anywhere on the Internet, intranet or a local file system.
To set the drill-down behaviour, right-click the Activity or Deliverable, select Properties and click the Navigation tab. There are two options: Default Drill-down (default) and Advanced Options.

Drill-down (default) Link to a new or existing page within the same file.
Drill-down to an external Process Navigator file Link to another Process Navigator .vdx file
Link to document or reusable process Allows users to hyperlink directly to an external file – Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.

Drill-Down (Default)

Drill-down (default) will drill down to a page within the current file.  

Advanced Options

Advanced Options enables you to choose between drilling down to an external Process Navigator file and linking to a document or reusable process. 

Drill-down to an external Process Navigator file

When drilling down to an external Process Navigator file, default drill-down behaviour is employed. This means that the user will need to ensure that if they are drilling down to a previously created process map, from an Activity, the file that they are drilling down to has a Node that is the same name of the Activity. If the file to which you drilling does not have a Node with the same name as the Activity from which you are drilling, then a new page will be created and a Node added to it bearing the name of the Activity.

In addition, the Deliverables on either side of that Activity will drop to the linked to file (see Dissociating a Node and Orphans further up in this page). A shadow will appear on the Activity once you drill down on the Activity.

When using ‘Drill-down to an external Process Navigator file’ option, a back button (a hyperlink circle positioned on the bottom left-hand corner of the Node) will appear on the map that you drill down to with a hyperlink set to the map from which you drilled down.

NOTE: When using ‘Drill-down to an external Process Navigator file’ option from more than one map, the back button hyperlink will reset to the last map that used the drill-down. It is possible to add additional hyperlinks to the map to enable links back to maps from which you drilled down.

Link to Document or Reusable Process

If you set drill-down behaviour to ‘Link to document or Reusable Process’, you can link to any external file. Using the sub-address field will enable you to link to a bookmark within a Word document or a specific page within a Process Navigator process map (see hyperlinks on page 64 for more information on linking to bookmarks).

If the link is to a reusable process (e.g. a .vdx file), then Process Navigator does not check or add Deliverables as seen in ‘Drill-down to an external Process Navigator file’ functionality as mentioned above.

If you tick the option ‘Display in new window’, the file that you linked to will be displayed in a new browser window when exported to HTML.

The Activity will also show a shadow to tell you that there is a drill-down associated with this Activity.

To view the external file, double-click the Activity. You can alternatively right-click the Activity and click on the file name.

TIP: If you already understand the concept of hyperlinking, simply select the shape and use CTRL+K to insert a hyperlink into any Visio shape. However, this will not insert a shadow on the shape.

You can add a shadow to any shape by selecting the shape, right-click and select Shadow from the menu options. You can remove a shadow by following the same process and deselecting Shadow from the menu option.

Use Relative Path

By default, ‘Use relative path’ is checked. If you would prefer to use an absolute path, un-check the box. Please refer to absolute and relative paths
TIP: The relative path will not work unless the map you are working on has been saved.

Recording Properties

The Properties tab on the Activity dialog enables you to document different characteristics of an Activity. 
NOTE: The Node Properties tab can be used if the corresponding Node produced when drilling down is in a file that is currently open in a session of Visio. This allows you to record properties in both an Activity and its corresponding Node from just the one shape.

Adding a User Property

User Properties are additional measurements or fields added by the user to the individual Activity. User Properties only relate to the individual Activity, Deliverable or Node to which they are applied.

To customise properties for every occurrence of an Activity, Deliverable or Node, see Customising Data Capture.

To add a User Property, right-click anywhere in the dialog and click “Add User Property.”

Process Navigator will prompt you for a name for this entry at the foot of the dialog. Type the name and click “Add”.

The new User Property is now available under User Properties at the bottom of the Properties listing.

Deleting a User Property

To delete a User Property, right click the User Property and select Delete User Property and then select OK.


IDEF0 is a process mapping methodology that classifies Inputs, Controls, Mechanisms and Outputs according to the edge to which they are attached.

Process Navigator can work with the IDEF0 classification also.

To turn on the IDEF0 classification of Inputs, right-click the drawing page, select Options and then select the General tab. Turn on the option to use the IDEF0 standard.

The right-click properties of an Activity will now contain an IDEF0 tab showing the IDEF0 ICOM classification.

As with Inputs and Outputs, simply select from the list of available Deliverables and click on the appropriate “>” to indicate the classification