Does this situation sound familiar?
Complex workflows require gathering and incorporating team member feedback. Every little step seems to take forever and usually involves hours of endless email or Slack arguments. The process takes a long time, leaving you irritable and frustrated.
If that sounds like a common complaint at your workplace, we need to talk.
There are plenty of easily accessible tips for workflow improvement—from learning the formalities of process management to using continuous improvement strategies—but there may be one PM workflow improvement tip that you may be missing.
Have you considered harnessing the power of visuals to streamline your projects and workflows?
Visuals and PM workflows
The Picture Superiority Effect suggests that we remember information six times better when that information is combined with pictures.
Everyone intuitively knows that visual presentations are faster to understand than long blocks of text. Why do you think stop signs are shaped and colored differently than yield signs?
Studies show that adding visuals to your presentations also helps you be more persuasive. Professional speakers rely on visuals for a reason, and not just because they want to show off their animated gif skills to their audience.
A 1986 University of Minnesota study found that “perceptions of the presenter as well as audience attention, comprehension, and retention are enhanced when presentation support is used compared to when it is not. Presentations using visual aids were found to be 43% more persuasive than unaided presentations.”
Ready to apply visuals to your PM workflows?
In any team, collaboration efforts can benefit from visuals. There’s no need to argue back and forth using long, wordy emails when you can streamline a feedback process with diagrams or flowcharts.
With that in mind, we’ve collected six tips to improve your project management workflows with visuals. Let us know if you’ve tried any of these tips, and be sure to leave your “lessons learned” in the comments below.
1. Use mind maps to transfer your ideas to the screen
When you use mind maps, which are visual representations of the results of a brain storming session, new ideas and connections will naturally pop up.
Mind maps are a great tool for project managers at the beginning of a project because they allow teams to organize their thoughts before getting to work and they can reveal potential risks and also opportunities. Anyone can participate in the mind mapping process, regardless of skill level or technical expertise.
By using curved lines, a variety of colors, and pictures, your team will be improving workflows without even realizing it. Just let the brainstorm flow.
2. Allow others to quickly comment and collaborate
Every project manager knows that open communication is the foundation that every good project is built on, but why is this the case?
Because if teams aren’t communicating, then they aren’t working together. Did you know that 86 percent of workers think that lack of collaboration or ineffective communication cause workplace failures? If teams aren’t working together than the project is doomed from the outset.
If I’m on a team that is responsible for fastening sprockets to the gizmos, but the team that fabricates the sprockets has a piece of equipment break down and doesn’t tell anybody about it, we’re all in for a fine mess. Luckily, most good project management software packages have built-in collaboration tools to make sure that your team stays connected.
With open communication, brainstorming goes smoothly. Visual diagrams make collaboration easier than ever for virtual teams, because everyone is looking at the same thing at the same time rather than struggling to interpret snippets of text.
3. Define your team’s roles and responsibilities with an org chart
Using an organizational chart, you can make it clear who’s part of the project and what exactly they are involved in or responsible for. This way, they can focus on just their part of the process.
With the right diagramming tool, you can easily highlight what every team member or actor is working on (more on that later). Org charts are vital for good project management because they allow the PM to quickly and easily see who is responsible for what, and who reports to which manager. Project managers can discover kinks in the workflow quicker, saving time in the long run.
Here’s a quick guide on how project managers can create and implement an org chart.
4. Use flowcharts to optimize your business process
Create flowcharts that make clear what the current process is, spot weaknesses, and steps that could be improved. If you need some help on the basics of creating project management flowcharts, here is a guide.
From there, create your optimal business process, ready to be executed.
Some diagramming tools give you a neat feature specifically for this, as opposed to traditional cross-functional charts with swim lanes.
Here are a few good examples of some classic project management flowcharts to get you started.
5. Ask key contributors to review and edit your diagram
No more wasting time with big meetings to make decisions.
With a few quick online sessions you get the hard work done and save some much needed time.
Instead of sitting in a conference room waiting for coworkers to arrive, you can make progress in your lane while getting answers from key contributors in a timely manner.
Is the sprocket fabrication machine repaired yet? When will the next batch of sprockets be ready? When everyone has access to your workflow diagrams, these problems can be addressed and resolved efficiently.
6. Turn your diagram into an animated presentation
Now for the best part.
With the right software, you can easily animate your diagrams. With just one click, you’re done with your presentation. No need to call a graphic designer.
Visual diagramming tools
If you don’t see yourself as a visual person, or you think you lack design skills, don’t worry: there are tools to help you with this process.
Visual diagramming software—like Textografo, Lucidchart, or SimpleDiagrams—solve those problems. With these tools you don’t need any design skills; you just need to have the structure of the diagram in your head.
Don’t forget to give some life to those workflows with animation, diagrams, flowcharts, and other visuals. Do you still think you need to have design skills, or perhaps hire a designer to do all the fancy diagramming stuff for you?
I get that this kind of tool may not be for you if you don’t work on a daily or at least weekly basis with workflows and other processes that could benefit from a visually based approach.
In my experience working with clients, the ones that are really happy with visual diagramming tools are product managers, business and process analysts, developers, UX designers, CEOs, marketers, and salespeople (they love using animation to present complex processes).
But as I said at the beginning, if you’re trying to develop or improve a workflow, a fast diagramming tool can help you. It may take you 15 minutes to get familiar with the commands, but once you’ve learned how to use it, you can create new, complex flowcharts in a breeze. It may be the single most important factor in speeding up your working process, so… Are you ready to give diagramming and flowchart tools a try?
Have you tried visual PM workflows? What has worked? What hasn’t? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for Project Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Project Management software solutions.