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The Power of Visualization

Continuous Improvement

Mark Woeppel - August 2, 2013

I was recently posting a Visual Portfolio Board for a customer and before we were even finished posting all the elements, the board had already begun providing real value. Just seeing the big picture of an entire portfolio of projects allowed the managers to understand relationships and issues they had never seen or understood before. In this case, they discovered the scope of money they were wasting on efforts that were not feeding the bottom line. For the first time they were clearly seeing the projects that were starting (investing in) but never completing.

This manifestation is not uncommon. Every time we have created a visual project or portfolio board, the team members begin congregating at the board and working together, solving problems, and explaining what they are doing. For the first time they can understand the entire process, see where they are and where they need to go, understand their relationship to the rest of the activities, and help move the entire portfolio to a successful conclusion. And all it takes is the appropriate tool.

Understanding the entire process: When you have the organizational processes depicted on a visual board at an appropriate level of detail for all the team to see, everyone has the same understanding of their route to success. For many, it may be the first time they have seen the organizations processes applied to their work. At a visit to one of my customers last week, again as we were just beginning to post our board, we “caught” team members already using the board to teach fellow team members their process and explaining what they should do next. An appropriate visualization of either a portfolio or a project consistently leads team members to better process understanding and ownership of their activities. The see their efforts as part of a larger process. Visual tools like the ones we often use at Pinnacle Strategies almost require no training to use and provide rapid performance improvements.

Where you are and where you need to go: A good visual board allows everyone to instantly understand the status of each activity and drives your attention to the issues that are or may soon begin impeding progress. Therefore, time is not spent explaining what everyone has already finished or what they are working on, the board does that already. The board allows managers to focus the team on what they need to be doing next. They see the issues, who is working the issues, when the corrective actions should be in place, and most important, when they or others need to be engaged to ensure the projects are flowing rapidly through the system. What team members really like is that the meetings at these boards are normally only 15-20 minutes long. One of our customers said that these meetings were the “most effective of all his meetings”, calling the boards “simple but elegant”.

Understanding the relationship to the rest of the activities: In addition to taking ownership of their activities, the board facilitates one other behavior that is almost always essential to project success – teamwork. At another customer site where we had posted a board, the production team was overloaded with “other” assigned work (multitasking is fun isn’t it). Their workload was having a direct impact on the project they were meeting at the project board to discuss. Classically, in this organization, the production and engineering resources did not have “close” relationship. But something great occurred at the board. When everyone saw the same problem and recognized it’s impact on the overall project, they began working together to come up with a solution. In this case, the engineering manager offered up some of his resources to assist. This was unheard of in their organization since this was not “their” responsibility. The engineering manager clearly saw the bigger picture and they worked as a team solving problems and moving the project forward. By the way, the picture at the top is where it happened.

Visual boards have proven effective in a lot of environments. In portfolio and project management, they are beginning to prove essential to both the effective and efficient execution of projects. At Pinnacle Strategies, we have been using and perfecting these tools for a number of years. ViewPoint™ is our proven methodology for developing, implementing, and sustaining these tools. You can read more about Viewpoint™ here.

To learn more about our project management methods, download our newest ebook Blindsided! Five Invisible Project Threats Successful Managers Must See.

Duke Porritt is the Pinnacle Strategies lead for ViewPoint solutions. In this role, Mr. Porritt is responsible for developing and implementing ViewPoint delivery processes, establishing training programs for both internal and external customers, and establishing essential quality assurance processes. Mr. Porritt is a Project Management expert with over 25 years of experience developing and executing management solutions and facilitating organizational change. He is highly proficient at analyzing organizational issues and guiding leaders to effective process improvements in all facets of management. His extensive background has made him a recognized expert at applying the Theory of Constraints (ToC), Lean, and Six Sigma methodologies to organizational issues. His specialty is implementing Critical Chain Project Management.

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