Using Visual Planning for Easier Project Management

Whether you are a “visual” person who needs to see in order to understand or an auditory person who prefers to hear in order to best comprehend, I think we can all agree that a visual planning system for project management is a great way to go.  Especially if it is meeting our project scheduling, project status reporting, and resource management needs in a way that can make our lives easier and can help us disseminate information throughout the organization (ours and the customers’) to those who need it.

Yes, for PM, visual usually wins out.  Charts, graphs, reports, percentages, and presentation slides abound everywhere you look and every meeting you attend.  And status reporting and meetings….  Well, there are resource usage reports that highlight areas where your resources are overextended.  Gantt charts are designed to provide a visual representation of how your entire project is laid out.  Each task is represented and all dependencies, work completed, dates, and resources assigned are usually integrated into the Gantt chart visual view.  And don’t forget about budget forecasting and analysis.  For the projects I’ve managed over the years, I’ve created numerous ways to display this information very visually for my team, my executive management, and my customer.  Sometimes what I have suffices, sometimes the customer and various stakeholders ask for something new which sends me off searching for or creating the best reporting scenario for the project at hand.  Information is critical, and the delivery of this information can be critical to end user comprehension and adoption.

Finding a PM software package that provides the best visual tool in a simple, easy to use and update format is important to the busy project manager.  There are many such tools on the market - the savvy PM or PMO director or CTO must do some investigative work to determine what is best for the organization’s needs. 

When scouring through the masses of project management software tools for one that will get you the best mix of visual planning and short learning curve, a few things to look for are discussed below…

Meaningful and configurable dashboard reporting

Many project management tools offer dashboards – even highly configurable dashboards.  But if you can’t make them tell you what you want without a big learning curve or a high degree of customization, then the busy project manager is likely going to move on to the next PM software tool.  The best visual project planning tools offer an easy to read, easy to customize project status dashboard for each project and, preferably, across a group of projects so as to produce meaningful information for both the individual project teams and customers as well as the company’s executive management who generally want to see the big picture view.

Easy to use quick to learn

An easy to use visual project planning tool should give the project manager some easy drag and drop features like creating dependencies, moving and creating tasks, adding resources and inserting percent completes.  These are the weekly rituals that project managers must go through to prepare status info for weekly customer calls and meetings, so making this as visual and easy as possible is important for the PM who is making final updates at midnight before the next day’s status call.  That’s me!

Smart filters to create instant visuals of status

Easy to access and create filters should be available to the user to create meaningful filtered quick reports of project status.  Key filters to use include resource usage conflicts, soon to start tasks, tasks in progress, tasks over due, tasks assigned by resource, and tasks recently completed.  Anything that allows the PM an easy way to create meaningful views of important project information is huge plus.

Summary

Where there used to be only two or three solutions (when I started out in PM…and, yes, I realize I’m dating myself now), there are now literally hundreds of project management software tools available. Checking most of these out and finding out what is best for you or for your organization is no easy task. In the end, you need a full-featured product that is both very visual in terms of planning, management and reporting AND easy to use so you and your team can be up and running – and collaborating – as quickly as possible. Try the free trials and request a demo to see if a particular solution is going to meet your needs.

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