Creating a comprehensive project plan can prove overwhelming for both project managers and their teams alike. The project planning process often involves juggling large amounts of project data and effectively communicating key data points to one’s team, which can easily result in information overload.
To combat this issue, a new approach has emerged from the project management community, a concept commonly referred to as visual project management.
Visual project management uses visual tools to provide at-a-glance insight into questions like:
- What are the current statuses of project tasks?
- What project milestones are on the horizon?
- What roles do individual team members play?
- What tasks are individual team members responsible for?
- What roadblocks may arise over the duration of the project?
As you can see, visual project management includes all the same elements as traditional project management. However, the difference is that visual project management uses a variety of visual diagrams to effectively illustrate and manage project teams and their task assignments.
So why opt for visual project management over traditional project management? For starters, the human brain is predisposed to think visually. In fact, research has shown that about 65% of the population learns best by utilizing visual reinforcements.
Visual project management builds upon the benefits of visual thinking, inspiring project teams to work together towards shared objectives, communicate efficiently, and adopt positive new habits. Let’s consider an example of visual project management in action.
Assembling a visual diagram such as a workflow diagram or process map for a new project requires a high amount of brain engagement. To compose these visual diagrams, project managers must understand both the fine details and the big picture of a given company initiative.
During this process, team members must also build upon each other’s thoughts and seek out new solutions to potential problems that arise. Visual project management not only inspires a higher level of thinking amongst project team members, but also helps teams enhance their interpersonal, comprehensive, and leadership skills as they see how all aspects of a project or initiative are interconnected.
In this article, we will explore the benefits of using visual diagrams to plan projects, the best practices for visual project management, and how your organization can leverage visual tools such as MindManager® to enhance your team’s project planning and management efforts.
Benefits of using visual diagrams to plan projects
The planning process is arguably the most important aspect of visual project management. Poorly planned projects often result in wasted resources, overspending, and employee burnout. By practicing visual project planning, project managers can avoid these common pitfalls and ensure their team is set up for success.
Visual project planning requires teams to employ various visualization and diagramming techniques to effectively map out each aspect of the project at hand. This benefits teams by:
Providing a comprehensive visual project plan that can be applied throughout the duration of a project to aid problem-solving efforts.
Offering a clear perspective on project goals and the individual tasks that must be completed to reach those goals.
Aligning project stakeholders and team members by clearly communicating their individual roles and responsibilities.
Motivating team members to perform at optimal levels by highlighting key project milestones as they approach.
Regardless of the size of the project your team intends to tackle, visual project planning can help them spend less time dealing with the pitfalls of poor project planning and more time helping your organization reach their overarching goals.
Best practices for visual project planning and management
There are five best practices that teams should follow in order to visually plan out and manage company projects. By following these methods, teams will be able to reduce the chance of project failure and achieve set project goals.
1. Visually define the project charter using mind maps
A mind map is a visual diagram that uses lines, symbols, text, colors, and icons to convert a long list of information into an organized graphic.
In traditional project planning, project charters are used to outline the various details of a plan project. Although traditional project charters are considered necessary documentation for project sponsors to issue in order to authorize a company project, they are often lengthy and time-consuming to write and review.
Visual project planning uses a project charter mind map to outline the inner workings of a given company project instead of a traditional text-based project charter. Project charter mind maps ensure that each pertinent project detail is easily understood by project stakeholders and team members.
Often, project charter mind maps include:
An overview of the project that identifies the project manager, the project team, and available resources that can be used for the project at hand.
Defined project objectives that specify what must be accomplished in order to bring the project to successful completion.
Defined project requirements that must be satisfied for the project to be considered completed.
Applicable project constraints, specifically the triple constraints: time, scope, and budget.
Defined project milestones that project teams will use to confirm the project is on track.
Potential project risk factors that threaten project success, as well as the appropriate monitoring or mitigation plans for each risk factor.
Identification of internal and external project stakeholders to ensure strong communication over the duration of the project.
Here is an example of a project charter mind map made with MindManager:
Project charter mind map developed using MindManager
2. Define your team structure using an organizational chart
An organizational chart or org chart is a graphical representation of the reporting structure or relational hierarchy of a business. In order to visually map out the structure of a project team, project managers can use a team-based, functional org chart that defines the chain of command within a project team and organizes team members based on their skills and functions.
Typically, functional org charts use a hierarchical structure, depicting a project’s leadership at the top of the chart and entry-level team members at the bottom. These charts enable project managers to store employee contact information, roles and responsibilities, and outline their team’s reporting structure. This makes it easier for project managers to know the roles and responsibilities of each team member and effectively assess any gaps in human resources.
Functional org chart made with MindManager
3. Comprehensively map out the project schedule and track project progress with a Gantt chart
Gantt charts are quite popular in the world of project management, as they depict the various activities involved in a project displayed against the project timeline. Each project task in a Gantt chart is represented by a solid-colored bar. The position and length of each bar reflects its start date, duration, and end date.
Gantt charts are a powerful visual project planning and management tool as they enable project managers, team members, and other stakeholders to quickly view and understand:
- The project tasks that must be completed over the course of the project.
- When each project task is scheduled to begin and end.
- How long each project task will take to complete.
- Which project tasks overlap with each other.
- The entirety of the project timeline.
Here is a depiction of a Gantt chart made with MindManager:
Functional org chart made with MindManager
Illustrate project workflows with a workflow diagram or process map
Workflow diagrams and process maps are visual representations that can be used to outline the individual workflows that make up a project, or the individual tasks that make up a specific project process.
Workflow diagrams are a type of flowchart that are commonly used to help project teams identify the order of activities that must be followed to complete a project process. These diagrams typically use lines, arrows, diamonds, circles, and rectangles to depict the task flow of a company project.
Below is an example of a simple workflow diagram made with MindManager:
Workflow diagram made with MindManager
Process maps are visual tools that outline a project process from start to finish, enabling team members to easily understand and therefore adhere to company-wide standards and best practices. By mapping out each element of a business process, teams can decrease the chance of duplicating work efforts or deviating from set company standards.
Process map made with MindManager
Teams can use workflow diagrams and process maps to easily visualize and stay on top of their task assignments as a project progresses. On the other hand, leadership can use workflow diagrams to keep team members accountable for their various task assignments over the duration of a project.
These diagrams also make great learning tools that can be easily shared with project stakeholders to reach a common understanding of the intricate details of an existing project plan.
5. Use visual brainstorming tools to effectively manage project issues
One of the most important aspects of visual project management is using visual diagrams to mitigate issues that may arise over the duration of a project. By using visual brainstorming techniques, team members can easily unleash their ingenuity and effectively resolve project issues.
One brainstorming technique that teams often use to mitigate project issues is the reverse brainstorming technique. Reverse brainstorming helps teams discover the root cause of an issue so that they can address it in its entirety, instead of simply fixing its symptoms.
To facilitate the reverse brainstorming process, teams often use a fishbone diagram, a brainstorming tool that aids the identification of the root cause of a specific project problem.
Fishbone diagram made using MindManager
Concept maps are another type of brainstorming tool that can facilitate a team’s problem-solving efforts. Concept maps use text boxes, lines, and arrows to explain connections between relative concepts. By using a problem-solving concept map, teams can better understand the inner workings of the issue they are trying to solve.
Here is an example of a concept map made with MindManager that focuses on solving a specific project issue:
Concept map made with MindManager
Leverage MindManager to enhance your team’s visual project planning and management efforts
MindManager is a mind mapping tool that offers a wide array of project planning and management templates. Project managers can use these customizable templates to organize and keep track of project workflows and aid communication with their team members and project stakeholders.
MindManager enables teams to add links to visual diagrams that live on web pages, local files, SharePoint documents, emails, and within other project resources. By aggregating all the important project data in a centralized document, project managers can more easily share project plans with both internal and external project stakeholders.
MindManager’s cross-platform co-editing feature makes it easy for team members to get involved in the project planning process. Using MindManager’s drag-and-drop feature, team members can efficiently add information to various MindManager templates such as Gantt charts, organizational charts, process maps, concept maps, and other visual project planning and management templates in real time.