Tools to Make Data More Understandable
Data about design, cost/benefit trades, issues and project status can be grasp more quickly when the data is presented using information visualization tools.
People more quickly understand the implications of data that is summarized in graphic form. Whether a manager needs additional resources or is trying to persuade a potential client of the benefits of his project or product, he will often do so more effectively with data.
When a manager needs to present complex relational data, recommendations supported by detailed cost/benefit analysis, or project status at a glance, information visualization tools are a great help. The audience’s understanding precedes their acceptance.
Visual representations of data are processed by the brain differently and much more quickly than words as clearly described by Robert Lane and Dr. Stephen Kosslyn in Show Me!
What Brain Research Says About Visuals in Power Point.
They recommend, “…eliminating most of those carefully thought-out words on slides and replacing them with certain kinds of rich imagery.”
Imagine trying to describe a family organization with words. Who are the aunts, uncles, cousins, and children and how do they relate to one another. Now think of how much quicker and easier it is to understand all of those relationships when they are shown in a genealogical chart. That’s the power of visualization.
What Visualization Tools Should a Project Manager Use?
Project status and plans can be shown graphically using a detailed project schedule as suggested in The Project Schedule-Powerful Tool for Managers with timelines overlaid. The audience can see at a glance if a project is on schedule or behind and what modules may be responsible if there is a delay.
Process maps can show team members, customers, or management what tasks need to be done, the type of task using different geometric shapes, and the sequence tasks using time arrows.
A slight variation of the basic process diagram, called a swim land process diagram, can add information on the organizational responsibilities for various tasks.
If a project manager wants to illuminate the impact of a decision or a resource added to improve efficiency or getting new customers, a simple chart of Value X (new client referrals, lines of code per month) over Calendar Times Y.
When the manager adds a single point in time when the change action occurred, then the slope of the performance line clearly demonstrates the wisdom of the original decision.
More Valuable Visualization Tools
- Cause and effect diagrams
- Pareto or control charts
- If-then charts
- Comparison values charts
- Simulations (either data or interactive)
- Multidimensional visualization
Visualization is more than an exercise in producing pictures. Visualization helps a project manager communicate and gain the understanding and resources needed to make a project successful. Whether a manager is trying to teach or persuade or enlighten, he or she will be more successful when they master the art of information visualization.
Edward Tufte is one of the best known and most respected scientists working in the field of information visualization. He is the author of several seminal books in the topic area.