Development, Leadership, Project Management
19 August 2014
Visual Thinking – why do Project Managers need it?
Visual Thinking – why do Project Managers need it?

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When I got involved in Doodleledo initiative and started Doodleledo 3City meetings, a kind of networking where we talk, eat, drink and doodle, a few people asked me why I do it?  They could not understand the connection between doodling and the other things I do, which are around project management.  So instead explaining everyone I meet why I’m doodling have decided to write this post.  I was excited  to find out that it’s not only me who understand the importance of visual thinking in our profession, also this month’s theme at ProjectManagment.com is “Visual Project Management”. According to Mark Mullaly, “Project managers have a problem in how we visualize–and visually present–information about our projects. Over time, there has been very little innovation in how we depict and portray information about our projects”. The whole article can be found here. So let’s explore the topic of visualisation in more details.
Visual thinking has been described as seeing words as a series of pictures (Wikipedia). For me visual thinking is the ability to work effectively with the complicated ideas. By unlocking the power of visual thinking we can overcome problems, think more creatively and critically, make better decisions and expand our perspective of what’s possible (Visual Thinking Magic).
In times of increasing complexity, competition and constraint, we cannot rely on yesterday’s ideas, products and ways of working. Today’s leaders in order to improve performance need to stimulate creative thinking and unleash the creative potential in themselves and in their teams.
“Albert Einstein believed that the words and numbers ” as they are written or spoken ? did not play a significant role in his thinking process. Geniuses are constantly making novel combinations. They are always looking for ways to combine and recombine things and ideas in new ways. What’s surprising is that the things they are combining are not new or revolutionary at all ” they simply haven’t been combined this way before. When thinking visually, you are constantly combining and recombining things in unique ways. You are looking at the same world as everyone else, but seeing something very different by using pictures to fuse together surprising combinations of thoughts, things and ideas” “Visual Thinking Magic.
Although visual thinking is not limited to drawing, drawing plays a crucial role in developing the visual thinking expertise. And what’s the most important, everyone can draw through practicing.
The whole framework can be found on the quoted several times here Visual Thinking Magic website, which I find very interesting and encourage you to explore in more details. For me personally, apart from competencies, mindset and so on,  the environment is very important. How to inspire ourselves and the people around us to be more enthusiastic, creative and passionate? How to create the space to excel?
Let’s start building a culture promoting high creativity ( Source: The Handbook of High-Performance Virtual Teams, page 46; adapted from Nemiro  2004).
Characteristics of a culture promoting high creativity:
1.  Ideas valued
2. Trust, high level of honesty
3. Constructive tension
4.  High level of challenge
5. Collaboration
6.  Freedom
7. Supportive management
8. Sufficient resources
9. Understand work style
As opposed to a culture of low creativity:
1.  Ideas dismisse
2.  Mistrust
3. Unconstructive tension
3. Lack of challenge
4. Competition
5. Lack of Freedom
6. Status quo
7. Insufficient resources and time
More on creativity can be found in one of my
previous posts.
 
5 reasons why we need visual thinking (after “Unfolding the Napkin” by Dan Roam):
  1. Pictures help thinking – make our brain more active. The left brain is verbal and processes information in an analytical and sequential way. Visual processes uses the whole potential of the brain and therefore thinking using pictures engage more number of  cerebral points and activate more nerve fibres.
  2. Pictures make our brain happy. Simple drawings motivate our brain to work, at the same time making it happy.
  3. Thanks to visual thinking we take decisions faster
  4. Visual thinking helps communicating our decisions and visions
  5.  Our teams will implement these decisions more effectively.

As Mike Griffiths,  project management consultant and trainer and also visual thinker, have noticed,  there are some dangers of visual project management because what cannot easily be visualized can often get trivialized or forgotten. Disagreements and disputes on whether they are internal to a project or external generally don”t transfer well to diagrams and graphs. Categorizing disagreements may be viewed as trivializing them by those they involve, and thus act only to alienate people. Many project variables can be effectively illustrated to help communicate a better shared understanding. Other topics are more delicate and need personal handling and discretion.

Mike advises to abstract difficult-to-visualize project activities like decision making and consensus building up one level to something that can be made visible like cycle time. Slow decision making and poor consensus-building steps will stifle an otherwise productive project. Stakeholder arguments and political standoffs have resulted in many a failed project. Graphing decision-cycle time or change-request cycle time shows the average time taken for a change request or decision to flow from inception and capture through discussion and to decision and distribution. More in the article.
If you want to meet Mike Griffiths in person please join 9th International PMI Poland Chapter Congress, Warsaw, 24-26 Nov 2014.

So, let’s start our path to become a visual thinker and start doodling! To join our next Doodleledo meeting please follow us on Facebook or contact me here.

PMI is the registered trade mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

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