PH Zurich standardizes and broadens access to process documentation with Visio

The Zurich University of Teacher Education (PH Zurich) once operated in multiple locations across the greater Zurich area. After unifying its operations within a single central campus, the university needed to standardize operations. To document its procedures, PH Zurich adopted Microsoft Visio Plan 2, documenting roughly 130 processes in three years. With Visio, the university has also empowered process owners to take a more active role in their departments, inspired collaborative iteration of operations, and eased its proof of compliance processes.

"We’re not just completing documentation; we’re creating a mechanism that fosters collaborative, iterative improvement all across our organization."

Stefanie Eichenberger: Specialist in Quality Management
PH Zurich


The Zurich University of Teacher Education (PH Zurich) provides education, continuing education, and research services to its students. More than 3,500 students and 20,000 participants in continuing education attend classes at the university’s central Zurich campus, which was created after PH Zurich consolidated its previous 19 locations into a single site. Once the university finished this consolidation, it began standardizing its software solutions and processes.

In 2017, after electing to standardize on Microsoft technologies, PH Zurich switched from its legacy process documentation solution to Microsoft Visio. “We no longer wanted a standalone solution but, rather, something we could embed in our SharePoint-based intranet,” says Stefanie Eichenberger, Specialist in Quality Management at PH Zurich. “We also needed to be able to train all of our process owners and editors, but for people who might use the solution as infrequently as once a month, learning a whole new user interface was prohibitive.”

The university’s previous solution has an interface that lacked common functionalities like the ability to copy, paste, or drag and drop elements. Worse still, the licensing model was severely limited, allowing access to only a few staff members in the office of the president. Due to the university’s structure, the only person in that office authorized to create process documentation was Eichenberger herself. This made her a bottleneck for process creation and documentation. It also led to the rise of documentation solutions not standardized on by the university, including Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. With Visio, PH Zurich was able to eliminate all of these limitations.

Gaining new perspective

From 2017 to 2020, the university documented and defined roughly 130 business processes. “First priority was to define what is relevant to the university through a process map,” says Eichenberger. “We then worked up the processes with Visio that would populate that map and published them through SharePoint.” Some departments were able to transfer their internal process documentation from Word documents to Visio, while others created entirely new processes, standardizing their processes either for the first time or taking the opportunity to revamp the way they operate.

Compared to the limited-use reality of its legacy solution, PH Zurich now operates Visio in a highly democratized fashion. Across the university, 20 or so process owners and another 20 editors use the solution on a routine basis that meets their specific needs. “We have departments with eight people and we have departments with more than 100 people,” says Eichenberger. “The flexibility of access that we’ve gained with Visio allows each department to use the solution as often as they need, without stepping on each other’s toes.” Additionally, instead of taking on the responsibility of drawing up process documentation herself, Eichenberger now needs to set aside only a few hours, during which she can grant new staff members access to Visio and complete their initial training.

During the process of adopting Visio, process owners and editors at the university have enjoyed the familiar tool set and usability features in Visio. “We very much like our ability to generate and link to a PDF version of each completed document,” says Eichenberger. “That is our primary internal mechanism for sharing these documents.” PH Zurich is also using a data connection between Visio and SharePoint Online to populate process documentation with metadata and other relevant information from SharePoint lists. Creating a number of templates and predefined shapes, Eichenberger and her office have standardized the appearance of the university’s flowcharts and made the process documentation experience a simpler one for new staff members. All together, these changes have helped process owners take more initiative in how their departments operate, including documenting those procedures unique to internal teams.

From documentation to results

“To really improve operations, to make yourself more efficient as an organization, you need analysis,” says Eichenberger. “That’s why we make sure that each process we’ve documented is revisited at least every two years. People need to keep looking for ways to refine how they’ve done things—and these days, that includes which processes can be automated.” In the past, when departments lacked access to a solution like Visio, it was harder for leadership to review and compare interdepartmental operations at a glance. Since the introduction of standardization, Eichenberger believes there has been an increase in transparency across the university. “That’s the point of process management,” emphasizes Eichenberger. “We’re not just completing documentation; we’re creating a mechanism that fosters collaborative, iterative improvement all across our organization.”

PH Zurich’s need for a standardized process-documentation solution also goes beyond the need for leadership to better understand the operations of each department. Since Switzerland ratified the Higher Education Act in 2011, universities have had to meet new institutional accreditation standards to retain their status. As part of this procedure, inspectors routinely audit the internal quality assurance system of each university, which includes process management. “Our ability to deliver documentation that readily shows how the university works has been instrumental in expediting our governmental compliance work,” says Eichenberger. “Whether it’s student registration, our financial practices, how Human Resources operates, or how we collaborate with other institutions, we have a standard document we can share now, and that’s made everything that much easier.”

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"The flexibility of access that we’ve gained with Visio allows each department to use the solution as often as they need, without stepping on each other’s toes."

Stefanie Eichenberger: Specialist in Quality Management
PH Zurich