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Visualizing Projects: What Do You Need to Manage?

project management

Mark Woeppel - February 25, 2014

The vertical columns of process steps are complemented with horizontal rows of….whatever is most relevant for you to manage in order to fulfill the process steps. These can be (but are not limited to):

• Individual people, such as engineers, designers, assemblers, machinists, etc.
• Teams of people, identified by function, department, location, etc.
• Job sites or locations
• Assembly components or subcomponents
• Partners, vendors or suppliers

What about your rows?

Depends on who or what you manage.
• If you’re responsible for a project team, each row could be assigned to an individual team member.
• If you’re responsible for managing many teams, each row might represent a project group.
• If you’re orchestrating a global project with components scattered around the world, the rows might represent various project locations.

Success Secret #1

Visualization opens insights into anything you want to manage, at any point in the business hierarchy. Once you’ve learned how to apply it to one level, you can apply it to any level, from floor operations all the way up to corporate strategy.

Filling in the gaps

Once the vertical process steps and the horizontal management rows have been defined, you and your team have a “visual project board” to which you can assign work or tasks to their appropriate places.

In some boards you are literally filling in the empty spaces. In others, the blank spaces are just as enlightening as are those where no work is taking place. As a general principle, you create tags or notes that represent work elements or packages that must be executed or fulfilled at various stages in the process.

In this particular example, we’re taking a board from a product launch in which the tags stand in for the first ten units in production. Each note pasted to a square represents a unit assigned to a person, team or location (whatever is being managed in the horizontal row) within the step represented by the vertical column.

The color of the note, however, is not decorative: it instantly flags important information about the unit’s progress, status, or even type of work. While every team is free to (and often do) associate colors and meanings as they wish, many companies worldwide have found the following code useful:

Blue: The work, or task, at this step has been completed. This works especially well for project
(as opposed to portfolio) management boards.
Green: Work is in progress by the agent in the row on the step in the column
Yellow: Work is at risk – while it hasn’t come to a halt, there’s sufficient reason to suspect it
may be delayed.
Red: Urgent – progress has stopped at this point.
A box with a diagonal strike-through means “not applicable”: the process step in the column
doesn’t involve the agent in the row.

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Success Secret #2

According to the code above, red and yellow tags indicate trouble. While it’s good to know where the trouble is, it’s even better to understand what’s being done about it. We recommend adding the following four pieces of information to every red and yellow tag:

1. The date the problem was first identified.
2. A shorthand label for the nature of the problem (i.e., mechanical error, supply shortage, design change)
3. Name of person responsible for resolving problem
4. Estimated duration time for fixing it.

This is chapter five and six of our newest ebook, Visualizing Projects. Do you want to learn more? Download the full ebook here.

Learn more about Visual Project Management and join the discussion on LinkedIn by joining the Visual Project Management group.

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