No matter what kind of project you’re managing, there’s a direct, causal relationship between process and outcome. In other words, it’s not just what you’re working on that matters but how you work on it.
Traditionally, the project management discipline has prized control and long-term forecasting over the particulars of work in progress. But considering 46 percent of all projects still fail to meet their original goals and intent, there’s a growing demand for real-time visibility into the movement of tasks and resources.
Visual project management is a new approach (and new technology) designed to address some of these challenges. By embracing it, teams and organizations can complete projects of any type with greater speed and efficiency.
What is Visual Project Management?
For the most part, visual PM is exactly what it sounds like: a project management strategy designed to increase success through visualization of project components, such as data and tasks. Mark Woeppel, the author of Visual Project Management, describes it like this:
“Visual Project Management is a process that uses visualization of the delivery process to drive team behaviors.”
Visual features can be a valuable asset for any project style, but they’re most commonly associated with agile methods such as Scrum and Kanban. In some ways, visual PM takes its cue from the good old-fashioned whiteboard. The whiteboard has served as a roadmap, progress tracker, and collaboration tool for all kinds of development teams.
But the history of visual PM is much older than the whiteboard.
The oldest roots date back to 1896, when Polish economist Karol Adamiecki created the “harmonogram” — a floating bar chart used to show tasks or resources changing across time. Not long after, in 1912, the famous Gantt Chart was born — used first to build ships during WWI and later to construct the Hoover Dam.
Adamiecki’s “harmonogram.” aom.org
Michael Dubakov, Founder and CEO of Targetprocess, says that visual PM started to crystalize around 2010 with the popularity of the Kanban approach. “One of the Kanban principles is to visualize workflow in order to better understand what is going on and what can be improved.”
Modern visual project management software is much more advanced, but its purpose is the same: to provide greater flexibility and improved outcomes through visibility into bottlenecks, tasks interdependencies, progress, and priorities. “In the recent 5 years we have seen a spread of visual tools like Kanban boards, timelines, and integrated BI systems with powerful reporting,” says Dubakov. In all kinds of industries (especially the IT world) visual project management is now helping teams stay in sync and respond to changing requirements.
In terms of actual methodology, many of the visual tools that have proven useful combine the best aspects of Kanban and lean production with the Scrum foundation that dev teams are used to. Some users have taken to calling this style “Scrum-ban.”
Common visual features include:
- Real-time dashboards
- Graphic reports (Gantt, burndown, etc.)
- Boards (Kanban)
- Product Roadmaps
The Changing Landscape
When fully embraced, visual project management can bring some dramatic improvements to the way teams collaborate and work. As modern software continues to evolve, more teams will adopt visual tools to improve their development lifecycles, over time raising the benchmark for an efficient project delivery process.
Let’s take a look at some of the specific ways visual tools can impact the future of project management. As your organization plans products and strategies for this year, try to pull some of these ideas into the conversation.
The Ability to Isolate Problem Areas Faster
As your teams work through various projects, there will inevitably be obstacles — things that slow the movement of tasks, stories, or feature requests during a sprint. Without the necessary visibility, it’s difficult for a project manager to troubleshoot delays or recurring problems.
A visual project management solution can make spotting and solving these “blockers” much easier. You get a real-time picture of where each component of a project rests, so you can quickly identify bottlenecks and trace issues to their source. For example, let’s say you notice that user stories are repeatedly getting “stuck” in the testing phase or re-entering a later sprint due to unsatisfactory completion. By visualizing the workflow, you can isolate the root cause and then communicate with the relevant team members to initiate change.
Better Resource Planning and Allocation
Resource and requirements planning is one of the most crucial components of any project: get it wrong, and you’ll have a project that gets delivered both late and over budget. There’s a little more leeway with agile projects (since work is done in short iterations), but decision-makers still need to stay responsive to changing requirements and be able to shift priorities or reassign team members when necessary.
The speed of change demands fast resource management. The right visual tools can help you tighten your development lifecycle by maximizing your use of resources—both in the planning phase and in continued optimization during the project. A visual resource planning feature, for example, shows where your team members are assigned and what tasks they’re working on. You can also drill down to assess individual skill sets and schedule availability.
More Projects Completed On-Time
One of the first principles of the Agile Manifesto is “. . . early and continuous delivery.” If your goals are built around this principle, it’s important to remove every possible impediment and give developers maximum visibility. Without the right tools, project information gets siloed into email threads, chat conversations, and spreadsheets, and team members have a hard time remembering who’s working on what. Ultimately, this leads to redundant efforts and a longer cycle time.
Visual PM can speed progress by conveying real-time project information in a way that is easier to access, understand, and share. It also makes it easier for team leaders to track work in progress and remove impediments before they delay the product. A Kanban board — which uses “cards” to move tasks through different stages of the project — is a perfect example of visual workflow optimization.
The Spread of Project Management Solutions
Finally, the growing popularity of visual features means that project management software itself will become easier to implement and easier to use for all team members. Even smaller companies with limited experience can set up a cloud-based visual PM solution in less than a day. That means small, agile teams can become even more agile without the overhead of a consulting service or an expensive, time-consuming implementation.
With agility at a maximum, project teams can improve the customer experience by running faster iterations with fewer bugs. Thus, visual PM tools create a more sustainable, scalable development model.
There is, of course, room to grow. Dubakov points to a general lack of research in the visual PM field. “To my knowledge, there are no people who understand both domains well enough in order to lead the visual management movement,” he says. In the coming years, we can hope to see additional research and innovation in some of the following areas:
- Using visual PM tools to aid decision-making
- Different visual approaches for different sub-domains
- Visualizations for planning, capacity management, tracking, and forecasting
- Process management and problem resolution
- Closer integration between visual PM and business intelligence tools
Visual project management isn’t some radical new approach that turns the discipline upside down. It’s just a set of tools and techniques that reinforce what we already know: people work and manage projects more efficiently when they’re “in the loop,” and when they have a clear picture of how project components move and interconnect. The best way to represent and share this information in real time is not with a list, or a spreadsheet, or a series of emails, but with a visual.
Aleks Peterson is the content manager at TechnologyAdvice, a B2B research firm that connects buyers and sellers of business technology.
Period scale for date axis
Dates are now scaled as continuous axes by default. If you need to use periodic scales for dates, you can switch scale type from the field popup.
Legend filtering has been improved. Now, several categories in the legend can be selected, and changes will be reflected on the chart.
The mechanics of tooltip have been improved. Projection to axis was added for stacked bars and areas to see the total value of the stacked items.
We will really appreciate your feedback on our reports editor. What do you like about it? What could be improved? Let us know what you think at email@example.com
We are happy to announce the beta release of our new Visual Report Editor for all On-Demand accounts (with the exception of private clouds, for now).
You may find the following features to be useful:
- Editing reports and visually exploring your data can now be done simply with interactive fields and drag-n-drop
- Aggregate fields, and make title and sorting changes with one click
- Important milestones and threshold lines can be added using field annotations
- Browse and filter chart data using the built-in visual editor UI
- Custom calculations can be done easilly via a formulas editor with full autocomplete. This will bring your creation of complex calculations to the next level
- Low-level data details are available within the tooltip data reveal extension
Here's how you can try out the new Report Editor:
We will really appreciate your feedback on this beta release of our new editor. What do you like about it? What could be improved? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” –Winston Churchill
Time is an extremely important metric for POs, PMOs, and anyone else managing a team, a project or a portfolio of projects. In Targetprocess, the Timeline view can help you visualize time-related metrics, spot potential delays before they happen, and synchronize projects and teams with important deadlines and company milestones.
For example: want to see if your project will be delivered on time? Or perhaps you need to check which teams will be available to work on a critical project at a certain point in time? Switch to a Timeline view. Timelines can be useful for anyone who wants to get a high-level look at projects or view any time-related metrics.
To be more specific, Timelines allow you to visualize three key timeframes:
- Planned Time (a user-determined value for an item’s planned duration)
- Actual Cycle Time / Actual Time In-Progress (an automatically calculated value which shows how long an item has been “in progress”)
- Forecasted Time (an automatically calculated value for an item’s duration based on current effort over time)
To view your data on a Timeline, you can either set up a new view or apply a Timeline to a current view by clicking on the Timeline symbol at the top right of the screen. Keep in mind that some views will have no use as a Timeline because they are not related to time (such as a list of all users in the system).
Timelines can be shared as Tauboards with people outside the project team or your own organization (e.g. for explaining the roadmap to customers and stakeholders). Tauboards are updated in real-time, so nobody needs to waste time updating different versions of PDFs or PowerPoints; everyone sees the actual real-time status with just a click. This is especially helpful for high-level planning meetings (especially if any participants are working remotely).
You can see the Tauboard for Targetprocess’s public roadmap here.
Different ways to use Timelines:
Setting expectations for delivery time is one of the most challenging aspects of project management. Timelines can help managers and team members get away from things such as closed deadlines and low quality releases (if they were the result of pressure from time emergencies). The Timeline view encourages transparency, and allows you to analyze what happened in the past, create plans for the future, and stay on track in the present.
There’s a myriad of uses for Timelines in Targetprocess. We’ll list some of them below.
PMOs and POs frequently use Timelines for:
- Portfolio management
- Project and program planning
The ability to display a dozen projects on one screen and show how they all coincide with each other can be invaluable. Users can get a visual comparison between planned and actual end dates, and also see automatic forecasts for when the projects are expected to be completed. Project managers can check estimations against real work to identify and correct any deviations from the plan.
Milestones (those colored lines with flags at the top) can add significant value to project scheduling. Milestones in different colors can help to synchronize work across different programs.
Release Managers use Timelines to:
- Create an iteration or release schedule for teams
- Plan and track progress across many different releases
QA Managers prefer using Timelines for:
- Mapping test plans for a test run
Other team or project managers (including those listed above) can use Timelines to:
- View project allocations (seeing when and for how long people will be available)
- View individual allocations across several projects
People Allocations Management is a very wide topic because it’s used for all kind of activities. Timelines can help you visualize which people and teams are allocated to which projects and whether there are any potential conflicts which might occur. You can specify what people (teams and individuals) are required for a project, how long you need them for, and what percentage of their total working hours they can be allocated to a project.
When viewing allocations on a Timeline, cards for people or teams might sometimes be displayed as red. This happens when an individual or team is over-allocated. For example: each person gets a certain capacity amount (e.g. 40 hours a week) which can be allocated to different projects as a percent. If the Percent Participating fields (found in the Allocations tab) for all of the individual’s allocations add up to over 100%, then the card will turn red.
Tips from Targetprocess veterans:
You can customize a Timeline’s cards to display blockers, relations, and many other units. It’s easy to drill down into these cards for more details. To customize which units are displayed on a Timeline’s cards, just go to the Customize Cards tab in the view’s setup.
Click the three gray dots to the right of the name of your view to find the view's dropdown menu. Select "Setup" then click the "Customize Cards" tab.
Visual encoding can be used to highlight items which have been started, or to flag items that could be potentially delayed. To see potential delays, go to the visual encoding tab and input:
- ?ForecastEndDate > PlannedEndDate
To see items which have been started, input:
You may have to replace ‘InDev’ with whatever workflow stage you have set up for items in progress.
At the top of the Timeline view, you can find the global time period selector. This is where you select your desired overall date range.
At the bottom of the view, you can find the local time period selector, where you can select which section and how much of your time interval your Timeline view will show. New users sometimes get confused about this function, so I’ve included a short explanatory clip:
How a Timeline view should not be used
We won’t try to tell you how to run your projects… but we’d be remiss if we didn’t try to offer some advice. In our opinion, it’s not a good idea to use Timelines to compare the efficiency or productivity of teams. Timelines are about tracking your plans in time and identifying potential delays, rather than measuring productivity metrics.
Why not a Gantt chart?
Why do we have Timeline view and not a Gantt chart? While we do see the value a Gantt chart can offer some kinds of projects, Targetprocess is an agile tool. Gantt charts assume that work will be completed in a linear fashion, and they don't do a good job of illustrating how the total amount of work left on a project changes with each iteration.
As Michael Dubakov (our CEO) mentioned in an earlier blog post on Gantt charts, “agile is not about tasks dependency and critical path management — it's about flexibility and temporary dependency."
Getting Started with the Timelines
Deciding when to use boards, lists, or timelines
How to share Timelines
How Timelines help project managers track progress