February 13, 2013 - FILED UNDER Visualization

The Optical Blueprint: Why Visual Project Management Makes Sense

The human penchant for visualizing information has never been anything short of obvious. From cave drawings to an obsession with cartography to the number of hours per day we spend staring into computer/cellphone/tablet screens–pictorial association has always been our thing.

In fact, several supporting statistics of this behavior indicate that, in order for information to be conveyed most efficiently, it needs to be visual. According to insightinformation.net, for example, the human eye can see visual patterns 65,000 times faster on a picture than in tabular form. And quintagroup.com claims 95% of all information is perceived through the eyes.

In other words, seeing is believing understanding.

Visual + Data = The Cognitive Sweet Spot

It’s surprising, then, to think of how many of today’s workflows lack a visual component–particularly when it comes to the soup-to-nuts requirements of project management. A simple shift in cognitive approach could drastically improve processes in domino-effect fashion:

Bottleneck Visibility–>

The human problem solving process involves a number of stages, including identifying the problem, generating alternatives and evaluating alternatives. According to psychologists Allen Newell and Herbert Simon, the most difficult is identifying the problem, as it is the most ambiguous of the three.

But imagine if all the disparate data points were presented visually. Managers could perceive the nature of the data and determine weak points much quicker–such as when a CFO looks at a graph of profits and losses, or a social media manager reviews website traffic reports.

–>Quicker Decision Making–>

When hiccups are more easily spotted, managers are able to swiftly respond. This is particularly useful when the need to make decisions in unstructured environments arises, which any team lead–including club C-Suite–can likely identify with.

–>Higher Human Bandwidth

The end result is simple and yet increasingly elusive: increased head space. Robert E. Horn, an award-winning scholar at Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Language and Information, puts it like this: “When words and visual elements are closely entwined, we create something new and we augment our communal intelligence … visual language has the potential for increasing ‘human bandwidth’—the capacity to take in, comprehend, and more efficiently synthesize large amounts of new information.”

Perceptible Progress

Visual communication has proven its worth time and time again, and yet most of us still put it on the back-burner, choosing instead the (often overwhelming) linear approach to work. Perhaps it is its obvious nature that blinds us from its usefulness, or maybe we just have an attitude problem. As Sunni Brown, leader of the Doodle Revolutions sadly points out, “[Visualization] is considered to be anti-intellectual and counter to serious learning.”

As we trudge our way through the increasingly crushing age of information overload, I think people will begin to turn to visual components out of necessity. But why wait?

If you’re using any visual processes in your work load, let us know in the comments below.

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