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Tasks versus Visual Processes

In my last blog called Task versus Step, I talked about how a set of steps collaborating together is more powerful than a list of tasks without context. Today, I will share my beliefs that we can improve project and program portfolio results with visualizing and executing good processes. 

Let's think about how our brain works. Most of us tend to be visual animals. There are many articles about how adding visuals to text helps us not only absorb information faster, but also retain memory better.

Traditional project portfolio tools (PPM tools) are designed as task-oriented lists, looking like complex spreadsheets full of text. Many people are crazy busy with just getting their work done and get distracted trying to sift through a long list of task items to see where they are, what they have to get done, and who ran into trouble.

Due to our human limitations with absorbing and working with text and task lists, we find the following pattern:

  1. Projects fail because we missed the process knowledge on making it right.
  2. Projects fail because we didn't have lessons learned from last time.
  3. Projects fail because we don't engage people with collaboration, sharing, and doing.

 

Visual Process Knowledge

The traditional project tools are not made for process thinking, which means that a lot of good how-to knowledge is missing from the plan. Most tools are used mainly to set up a schedule to understand the budget needs. Although scheduling is important, we forget the purpose of the project, which is the final outcome. A list of tasks is not the same as a process on how to get to your destination in great shape.

Instead of a task list, a visual process tool is better designed at showing how to make learning and execution faster in order to meet the project's final objectives. It encourages the team to think about how all of the work relates together in phases, sub-phases (milestones), and action steps. It also makes it easier for team members to see their role and how they play in making it all come together. 

In the image above, on the left, is an example of a task-based approach with Excel from Microsoft. On the right is a visual process approach with Pie from PieMatrix. It's important to note that they both have the same task content. Excel is driving content as a list, making it hard to see a process. The Pie version on the right is driving the content with a visual process giving people a sense of location and purpose while providing the underlining how-to knowledge to continuously get the work done right.

Make projects succeed with a visual process that has good how-to knowledge.

 

VISUAL LESSONS LEARNED & Process Improvement

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Traditional tools are very weak for incorporating lessons learned. The reason is because a task-based tool doesn't encourage process thinking. With a visual process tool, it's easier to identify what part of the process is missing or what part could be at risk in ending up as a risk or issue.

Since the work is all visually integrated, once a team understands the process, they also gain a better understanding of strengths and weaknesses. This means, if they discover an issue, they can better comprehend the impact on other work areas. Task list-based approaches make this more difficult and can preclude capturing lessons learned.

Secondly, traditional tools and their project tasks are usually managed, at least holistically, by one person (i.e., the project manager). This can create a slight barrier for team members to share challenges that lead to an issue or risk. Instead, people report issues and risks into a separate issue/risk log document outside of the project tool. This detaches issues and risks from the work process; team users are unable to link reported issues to where they were generated in the work flow. The other problem is, this may lead up to an end-project meeting where people review lessons learned, not knowing what to do with proposed changes. They may end up on sticky notes in someone's shoe box that gets slid under a desk.

With a visual process tool, it should be easier to incorporate lessons learned and review steps along the way with instructions on how to analyze and discuss experiences. It should also explain how to immediately document the needed changes into the process methodology. The sooner it's incorporated, the quicker it's available for the next like-project about to kick off. This becomes a super powerful way to continuously improve your projects' methodology in real time, thus reducing future risks and issues.

Make projects succeed from turning lessons learned into process improvement.

 

Engage people with visual processes

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Traditional project and program portfolio tools (PPM tools) fail to engage people. First, these tools can be overly complex, making user adoption difficult. Since they are task-list based, teams cannot see how the work is interrelated or if the work was planned as a process. Also, the user might not be able to see where he or she fits into the bigger picture. This stunts and complicates collaboration. The only person that might know how everyone is involved is the project manager. As you know, many project managers are too busy getting updates and preparing status reports, leaving little time for solving problems or improving processes. This lack of interactive leadership is one reason people are not engaged with their work. 

Secondly, traditional PPM tools don't provide easy ways for people to collaborate together on the how-to aspects of the process steps. This makes it challenging for people to share ideas and help others solve problems or roadblocks.

A visual process tool has the how-to content and methodology embedded in the process flow and action step details. The visual part makes it easy for people to quickly see what needs to get done and how it all fits together for them as they journey towards the project's output. The process part makes it easy for people to see what they need to talk about from within the tool's messaging system.

Make projects succeed from engaging team members to help each other and think about better ways to get the work done for the ultimate output.

 

How does your organization manage best practice and processes? Does it drive processes visually, making it easier for people to learn and execute? Does it have a process improvement culture? Does it engage people who don't know, to ask questions, and people who do know, to help answer?

 

Photo credits: Benjamin Combs & Paul Dandurand