Using the power of visualisation

Meetings are an essential part of project management. Project managers are constantly meeting with their team colleagues, with other parties working on the project, with authorities or with clients. In all these meetings, problems and strategies are discussed, ideas are debated, and decisions are made - sometimes they are incredibly important and have to lead to ground-breaking decisions, sometimes they are just part of everyday project life and are just meant to keep everyone up to date. Either way, the meetings are there to keep the project moving forward and should be taken seriously. In order to achieve the desired success in any meeting, it is important that everyone is focused and concentrating on the meeting, whether it lasts ten minutes or two hours. This is the job of the meeting leader or facilitator, who in most cases is also the responsible project manager. To keep everyone focused, visualisation is a very effective method. If everyone in the meeting can see what the discussion is about, everyone is more likely to stay on track and not get sidetracked.
A man with a red jumper draws UFOs on a whiteboard, 3 other people sit at a table and watch him.


Visualisation, structuring and recording

The classic flipchart is far from obsolete. It can be used to visualise and list the meeting topic, then the agenda items, and finally the contributions and ideas as the meeting progresses, so that the structure of the meeting remains in everyone's mind. It is best to focus on key words. As the facilitator of a meeting, the project manager will also need to take notes for the meeting report. These will be longer and more detailed than the notes on the flipchart. Taking notes during a meeting is not always easy. Not only does the project manager need to understand what is being discussed, but he or she also needs to grasp the essence of each statement, establish the context of the issue, and finally see the relevance and implications. In addition, several contributions are often made to a topic and a consensus is usually reached at the end, which relativises the weighting of previous contributions. If things are moving too fast and unstructured, the facilitator can ask a question. For example, "Let's summarise: we decided on solution B because of reason C". This makes it easier for the facilitator to get everyone's agreement, and at the same time makes everyone aware of the consensus.

Pictorial visualisation

A visualisation does not always have to be a list of terms. Often a sketch or a picture is the best way to visualise. On a flipchart, lines, boxes and arrows can help turn a list of words into a kind of diagram. In this way, connections between tasks, events, decisions and even people can be quickly and clearly grasped and made visible to everyone. Causes and effects can be represented by simple arrows. It is not important that the picture is visually perfect. It just needs to be thematically correct and easy to see. If it gets too chaotic, just take the next sheet and start again with the new circumstances until everything has been discussed and all participants agree with the picture or diagram that has been created. Of course, when we talk about flipcharts, we mean all modern, IT-supported similar tools. If what the project manager writes or draws is projected from the tablet onto the screen, this is equivalent to a flipchart and serves the same purpose.

So many topics

It is often the case that at a meeting a speech is made that is out of place. Either the speaker wants to raise this point because it seems important, or someone has not read the agenda. 
It also happens that people go off topic, that a point is made that is important but should be dealt with later in the context of another item on the agenda. If this happens, the moderator should not be afraid to say so and record it. 
Visualisation is also an effective way of interrupting and deferring a topic: the facilitator writes the key point on the next flipchart sheet and then returns to the current discussion point. This ensures that the topic is not forgotten and signals to everyone that one point should be completed before moving on to the next. This allows the project manager to maintain the structure of the meeting, stop speakers who are rambling (but still raising potentially important issues), and provide a structure for the rest of the meeting and, if necessary, for the next meeting. When an item is adjourned (and adjourned for all to see), speakers are usually reassured that their contribution has been heard and taken on board. This allows them to move on and not risk coming back to the same point again and again.

Closing words

In meetings it is useful to visualise what has been said, i.e. to write it down and record it. How this is done is up to each person and will certainly change over time. The important thing is that everything that is said is recorded, that people feel seen and that these notes can be referred to in future decisions.

Power of visualisation - The IAPM logo
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Visualisation, Meeting

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