Microsoft Visio has a useful Structured Diagramming concept that consists of Containers, Callouts and Connectors. The first of these features make it possible for shapes to know what they are contained within, as a better option to grouping shapes together. Grouping can hide or break the grouped shapes smartness, so Visio provides two ways of allowing shapes to be members of one or more containers. There are a few built-in Container shapes that can be added with the Insert / Diagram Parts / Container gallery, but shape developers can also create their own. Member shapes can be positioned anywhere within the container. There is a second type of container, List, that provides the ability to have ordered member items. There is no ribbon command to add these, but there are a number of these special shapes provided in the OOTB Visio stencils. For example, dragging and dropping a List box shape from the Software and Database / Software / Controls stencil will automatically add three List box item shapes to it.
There is a dedicated ribbon tab, Container Format, that appears when you select a container shape, which provides some extra commands, but I want to demonstrate how a member shape can reference data in its container shape in the ShapeSheet. I edited the Belt and List box masters in the Document Stencil above by adding a Title Shape Data row. Of course, I also ticked the Master Properties / Behavior / Match master by name on drop option to prevent Visio creating duplicate masters. I also ticked this for List box item master because I want to edit that too.
First, I simply added a Shape Data row to each master, but made them read-only so that they displayed the text in the heading shape of each.
The Belt master’s heading shape is Sheet.8, so the Prop.Title.Value cell formula is:
The List box master’s heading shape is Sheet.6, so the Prop.Title.Value cell formula is:
Next, I edited the text of the List box item master by using Insert / Field:
The following formula will either display the position of the item within its List container, or it will display that it is #0 of no list.
="#"&LISTORDER()&" of "&IFERROR(LISTSHEETREF()!Prop.Title,"no list")
The LISTORDER() function will return the position in the list, and LISTSHEETREF() function gets a reference to it. The ISERROR(…) function provides the fallback value if the specified cell does not exist in the referenced list container, or if there is no list container at all. The list container could also make use of the LISTMEMBERCOUNT() function if you wanted to display that.
The rectangle shape text was also edited to display the Title Shape Data of its container.
This is the simplest form of the CONTAINERSHEETREF(…) function, because it simply references the first container it is within:
"I am in "&CONTAINERSHEETREF(1)!Prop.TITLE
Of course, the CONTAINERSHEETREF(…) expression could also be enclosed within an IFERROR(…) function, to handle the case where there is no container. In addition, the CONTAINERSHEETREF(…) function has an optional second argument to filter the collection by a named shape category. There is also a CONTAINERCOUNT() function to get the total number of containers that a shape is within, and a CONTAINERMEMBERCONT() function for a container to get the number of members that it has.
Note that I had to re-drop a List box item shapes to use the new text formulas automatically.
These functions are also used extensively in Cross-Functional Flowchart diagrams, where multiple container shapes (swim-lanes) are found within a list shape. All of this functionality works in Visio for Web, so there is no excuse on making smart shapes for everyone!
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