Visual displays of project-related data are quite familiar in project management practice. Whether found in a common area, shared project team space or on a factory floor, these displays share information, encourage collaboration, increase project visibility, communicate status and make data easy to interpret and understand. Four of the most commonly used visualization approaches for project management include project display walls, project showcases/exhibitions, project flight plans/checklists/status displays, and 3D virtual project environments.
Project Display Walls
For organizations that cannot accommodate or justify the corporate real estate commitment required by a dedicated war room, space can usually be found on a long wall or shared workspace area. “Project walls” include much of the same data visualization artifacts used in project war rooms. Many project walls are centralized project status boards with dashboard-like project status metrics posted and available for viewing by anyone in the organization. Similar walls may be confined to the PMO or individual department that is sponsoring the project work.
Since the team is not co-located in a single room, status reviews and project meetings are typically conducted through what is known as a “wall walk.” In a wall walk, the project team collectively reviews all new items posted to the wall, as well as any visual summaries of project status or performance metrics in order to determine next steps or actions to be taken in the next work cycle.
Project Showcase or Exhibition
Some projects have such an impact on the organization or society-at-large that they are deserving of special attention or recognition. To facilitate this recognition, some organizations create an exhibition area to showcase these projects and their artifacts or deliverables. Rather than being actively used for the day-to-day management of a project effort, the showcase or exhibition is typically used post-project to highlight awards the project may have won, display products and/or services that the project recently delivered, or to convey other information the project team or their sponsors/stakeholders wish to share with the entire organization or the general public. These displays are usually either static, created as a stand-alone exhibit with a set duration, or event-based, created for a one-time publicity, marketing or celebratory event.
Project Flight Plans and Status Boards
The usage of aeronautical terminology and analogies are common in project management practice. Perhaps it is because modern-day project management takes its historical roots from the early defense and space programs of the 1940s and 1950s.
Project flight plans are, in essence, a summary of the complete plan for the lifecycle of the project. They are critical for ensuring that all of the pre-flight (execution) checks have been completed, the required waypoint (milestone or deliverable) plans have been documented, the necessary crew (team) are assembled and ready, and that all of the plans have been reviewed and approved by the control tower (PMO or Executive Team).
The project flight plan approach can also be extended to the concept of checklists. Checklists are an invaluable time saving tool for project managers. While typically not graphical in nature, when looking over a checklist, a user of the template can clearly see whether or not a task has been completed via “checked/not checked” visual capability.
Project status boards are simple, at-a-glance visual representations of real-time project status across a number of different projects or across multiple sub-teams/work streams on a single project. Status boards range from the very simple to the very sophisticated. Simple boards are often represented on a magnetic white board with project names written in and color-coded magnets utilized to signify status, or via a simple color printed spreadsheet. Electronic project status boards have been developed in the last few years and are becoming more and more affordable as the technology costs decrease and product maturity increases. While in use across multiple industry types, much of the development around electronic status boards are found in software development environments.
3D Project Environments
The utilization of 3D environments in project management practice is a very recent development and its usage is typically defined by the industry in which the projects are undertaken. For example, new product development projects that rely on rapid prototyping are eagerly leveraging new developments in 3D printing technology. Once limited only to concept modelers, artists and design teams, proposed product designs can be transformed from a 2D image on a computer monitor to a 3D physical object that can be “printed” in a matter of hours. As 3D printers continue to become more and more mainstream (and affordable), usage of the technology for project tasks such as prototyping, modeling, testing and usability will become a reality within even the smallest product development shops.
For organizations that focus more on marketing, customer experience and product placement projects, complete 3D store layouts and virtual shopping aisles are being developed. Product development and customer experience teams conduct focus group sessions and leverage high-tech eye tracking technology, testing various product placement strategies by soliciting direct feedback and recording the reactions and engagement of the “shopper.”
Finally, with an increasing number of project team members participating virtually from locations all across the globe, the creation of temporary virtual project “war rooms” have also been on the increase. These electronic communities often include video conferencing technology, virtual white boards, screen sharing, access to a shared document repository, electronic “bulletin boards” for information sharing and other modules designed to allow a widely dispersed project team to communicate and collaborate “virtually.”
Use of visual project displays in project management, along with over twenty-five other visual project management communication concepts, is explored in much greater detail within Visual Project Management, a recently released publication by Paul R. Williams, and now available to interested readers!