Managing Projects and Displaying Them

I'm hacking together a roadmap discussion for my boss tomorrow and spent much of the week getting things together from my group. When it comes to making a presentation of that material, however, I have a lot of flexibility. However, I also have limitations. Only one of the people involved in the presentation will be local to me. All of us will be on a conference call. I'll be sending any information out in advance and then talking to slides as everyone will sit there and page through the material at their own pace. It's extremely non-linear and unfocused.

I think a lot of remote presentations suffer from this problem.

This weekend my copy of The Cognitive Style of Powerpoint arrived, and I have to agree with much of what Tufte wrote. It's hard to drive a discussion with Powerpoint. He indicated that when it came to getting a lot of data across to an audience it was better to write a technical paper and distribute printed copies of it. In my experience this often leads to people paging through the material instead of paying attention to the speaker. However, my primary experience with this is teaching basic firearms skills to a diverse group of people.

I did a little more poking around and found that Tufte's web site has a discussion on how to present and handle project management information. The usual problems with Microsoft Project crop up first. Also many of the same problems I mention are covered.

Even in my normal 1600x1200 mode, Microsoft Project's Gantt charts are not an easy way to get a handle on the big picture. It does, however, allow one to roll up details if needed and expand them when it's relevant.

(Project Plan)

I did like Tufte's project plan displays (shown above), though. Less grids, more meat, obvious visual flow of work. Especially nice was the bigger picture view at the top so you could see the plan in context. Why on earth can't project management programs do this? I have hopes for Open Workbench but since IBM bought one of their competitors I don't think I will have all that much influence on an open source project management program.

Tufte made the above chart with Adobe Illustrator by hand. He didn't programmatically generate it. Obviously doing this sort of thing back hand is time-consuming. Time is something few of us have in surplus, but we would all like to transmit information better.

I suspect I'll end up splitting things up, which Tufte warns against. Pretty much each of my teams will have their own slides, with features at the top, quarter-by-quarter, major releases highlighted, and supporting processes at the bottom. This is a cliché, but it's comfortable to everyone involved, including myself. links:

Josh Poulson

Posted Sunday, Jan 30 2005 02:09 PM

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