In one of my previous positions as a project manager, I had to present materials in a new weekly forum to a handful of senior executives. I had put a draft together for my manager and mentor at the time, who quickly suggested to me that the information needed to be drastically more simple: “Ducks and bunnies,” he said. This message has always stuck with me and has allowed me to become a very effective communicator of project data, especially when I’m introducing new information. Regardless of the direction in which I’m communicating; upward, downward, or externally, delivering my messages successfully has since been purposefully one of my most practiced skill sets. I am a Gantt Artist.
For project managers, or for people who plan things in general, excellence in communication is critical. If you are a current and regular user of OnePager, you have already recognized and embraced this. One could even argue quite easily that the overall success of an initiative in the eyes of the stakeholders hinges on the most effective communication possible. So, what does that mean? It means that when we are presenting or having conversations about our work, that what is being discussed and decided upon is as clear and as memorable as it can possibly be.
It always makes me raise a brow when I hear people in a project manager-type role suggest that they don’t have time to make their communications effective. Without striving for Gantt Art, I guarantee that you’re going to experience realizations of over-commitment, under-delivery, and generally a more negative perception by everyone involved about your initiative. As they say “perception is reality.” A few examples of what I see very often as poor execution of communication are:
- Cut and paste of MS Project documents into a PowerPoint slide or Word document for the purposes of reporting or for review within a project team. I’m sure you will agree that MSP can be a great tool for the people who own creation and management of a plan. However, it is not conducive to facilitating meaningful conversations about that plan, although most MS Project users have tried this, ncluding yours truly. Microsoft realized this and as a result tried, unsuccessfully, to fix this with their Timeline View. In many cases I’ve personally experienced eyes glazing over when I put a copy of a MS Project document in front of people, which is why I stopped going it!
- Presentation of datasheets…nothing but textual data in columns and rows…to facilitate discussion around a plan. In this situation, with the help of a magnifying glass and possibly a valium, you may be able to calmly and clearly see things like dates, resources names, phases, etc. However, you cannot easily visually identify what jeopardies may exist like resource overlap and underestimations. With this method you will also not be able to clearly absorb what impacts are created when any change occurs within the plan.
- Another one I see is trying to cram too much information onto a single page from the outset, even with a visual. This is a mistake! Any and all research into presentation tips will tell you that keeping your data points to a minimum and maximizing empty space in a message is paramount to ensuring that your audience can absorb what you’re trying to get across. If you have too much, you’re going to dilute what should instead stand out.
My personal experience and research suggests that minimal volume along with a combined balance of textual (symbolic) and supporting visual (iconic) information provides the most clarity and memorability, within the delivery. I can say this from the perspective of a project manager creating the materials, as well as from an audience’s point of view. This, like anything else that is difficult, will take practice and a process of feedback to understand where your audience’s sweet spot is.
All of that said, our application can and is being used to create some very complex graphics containing significant volumes of information, and we see excellent examples of this within our user-base quite often. In fact, the tool is meant to solve for the simplification of data in terms of the presentation in general, regardless of breadth and complexity. If your audience wants lots and lots of detail in a single page, then by all means give it to them! However, I believe this to be the exception, not the rule. If you have a lot of information to communicate and haven’t tried it out yet, breaking out the information into multiple pages or slides is one thing that may help to avoid quizzical looks from your recipients. Work into the minutia…tell the story that leads the audience or reader down a path of understanding of where they are so when they finally get into the weeds-level it’s a purposeful destination and they know exactly what they’re looking at. Providing the context along the way to the details will assist your audience in engaging and committing your information to memory more easily.
The communications needs will always be specific to the moment, work, audience, industry, etc. when it comes to the plan, but even the most studied academics will likely not be able to sit down, and at first glance, understand a low level of details without context. Whether you are using OnePager or not, I think we can all agree that the right way to execute communications around our plans, to the variety of audiences we interact with throughout the lifecycle, is clearly and concisely. Gantt Art. Striving for that will positively impact your own personal development goals, and your company’s bottom line through more accurate project outcomes.
Please keep your eye out for more tips, science, and expert opinions posted on our blog and within our newsletter to help you become a better communicator and a Gantt Artist!