“Simplicity is courageous” …is BRILLIANT

confusing-road-signWe’re going to continue gushing about Scott Berinato’s book “Good Charts” in this article (it probably won’t be the last time).

Berinato references Braess’s Paradox – “a principle of traffic management…which states that adding route options (new roads, new lanes) to congested roadways can decrease traffic performance.” Relating this to visuals, “the thing about having options is that it slows us down.” We love this analogy because being presented with data visualizations in business is very much the same. Someone hands you a chart, and you are immediately looking for only what you need.

In our interactions with OnePager users, we see countless examples of Gantt charts that attempt to show just about everything they need to communicate (and more), squeezed into a single page. These charts show the plan overall, status against estimates, who is responsible, regional divisions, major milestones, cost against budget, and then countless other categories that their audience may (or may not) have asked for.

We get it…we’ve even lived it. When you’ve created a veritable cornucopia of colors, shapes, fonts, lines, and other visual cues that allow your reader to consume massive amounts of data in one place, you’re proud! It’s pretty! It’s complex! Amazing! But we’re about to tell you that you’ve been doing it wrong.

We’ve always said “less is more.” Berinato punctuates this point, noting greats such as Da Vinci and Plato, before putting it in his own eloquent words: “Simplicity is courageous.” You get this statement instantly. It’s an “aha moment.” Inherently, we believe that if we put a very simple chart in front of our management, they might think we’re not good at creating graphic communications, or maybe that we think they’re not capable of consuming complex visuals. But guess what will actually happen? They will read it, and absorb the data within it, at a glance. It’s the unmistakable truth.

Understandably, this change will likely require some upfront discussion, starting at the top, to facilitate the cultural shift. But if you can help your organization buy into the fact that complex visuals take longer to absorb, and therefore actually preclude the presentation of data in a clear and consumable way, you will have done them, and yourself, a great service.

With OnePager, in most cases, and with the proper training, creating Gantt charts should be a button-pushing exercise that takes minutes. Where you once only had time to create a single chart using PowerPoint (dragging shapes around for hours), you should now be able to make as many as you need. Not for the purposes of creating more reports, but to spread out your data and information, so that it is more easily consumable…more simple.

For example, let’s take the chart below.

7-dimensions-in-one-place

In it, I have:

  1. Activities and milestones grouped vertically into swimlanes by Resource Name.
  2. Major milestones to display as black large stars.
  3. Colors being driven by Status values.
  4. Baseline estimates represented as shapes under my actuals.
  5. Regional values noted in my rows.
  6. Critical path marked by red bars.
  7. Progress marked by yellow bars.

Seven dimensions of information in a single chart! There is a lot going on here and even a trained eye will have a hard time separating what to focus on — what the story is in each dimension of data.

But what if I take this one visual and turn it into three?

critical-status-progress-milestones

resource-grouping-baselines

regions

All of a sudden the information begins to get more clear. I’m parsing out the information to be absorbed more easily. The busy visual can always still be included, but if I add the other three slides to the front of my presentation, the audience will be more apt to absorb the busiest chart in the end. Their eyes are being trained in real time to understand what they are seeing.

This example is the tip of the iceberg, and we would highly encourage you to take a hard, second look at the charts you are currently generating. Can they be separated into two or three different visuals, or does the data have to be presented together?  If it must be presented together, can you begin with a simple view, and then over the course of 2-3 pages, can you add the other dimensions of data on top to allow for easier readability? With OnePager, it is very easy to accomplish this gradual layering of information.

We’d love your feedback on this, or any other article. Please leave your comments below or send an email to jleslie@onepager.com.

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Data Visualization, Plan Communications by Jay Leslie. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jay Leslie

Devoted father of two, lover of mountains, entrepreneurism, and beer. Jay carries with him fourteen years of project management experience within the cable, telecom, construction, software development, and energy industries. The spectrum of projects and programs that Jay has managed throughout his career is broad and deep, enabling him to help clients implement Chronicle Graphics software in a multitude of applications. His employment history includes positions at Narvaes Construction, Leslie Brothers Construction, CSG Systems, Echostar Satellite Services, Comcast, and Level 3 Communications.

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