A picture is worth a thousand words - Collaborative visualisations provide clarity

It is typically PowerPoint that is used nowadays in the knowledge transfer process. Work results are compiled in a report. However, we find that in both cases, visualisations prepared by hand during a meeting or seminar are often more relevant. They are easier to understand and more authoritative, and they motivate all those present to engage in active participation.

Visual facilitation - the alternative to powerpoint 

A few months ago, the business section of the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” announced the “end of the PowerPoint parade”. Other newspapers and radio programmes have made similar predictions. The PowerPoint alternative they proposed is known as “visual facilitation”. This involves hand drawings that are created during discussions, meetings and even training sessions and that record results using pictures and metaphors. It is still premature to talk about an actual trend, but the method is attracting more and more adherents due to the multiple benefits of visual facilitation.

Phase 1 for know-how transfer

Fig. 1: Visualised model of project procedure – Phase 1 for know-how transfer

Visual facilitation – active participants and qualitatively better work products 

First of all, participants are significantly more active than is the case with PowerPoint presentations or when results are laid out in a report. They tend to take an active role in creating the visualisation. When a flip chart or wall poster is used, participants stand up and get involved in drawing elements or adding Post-it notes. This type of activity produces a momentum that draws in all of the participants, which ultimately leads to higher-quality work results since each participant is contributing his or her own ideas. At the same time, the results also have a better underpinning within the group.

Visual facilitation - appropriate representation of complex processes 

Second, complex relationships can be expressed in a simple manner and become clear for everyone involved. The visual format helps to ensure that nobody loses sight of the big picture. Due to the limited amount of space, it is impossible to get lost in details. This method thus helps to get to the heart of the matter. Accordingly, the resulting posters are often used as visual reports to document work results and also for ongoing orientation within projects.

Visual facilitation - orientation guide during the project 

Third, posters tend to be more authoritative than written reports. A report is created after the event and always has a certain range of interpretation, while a poster completed over the course of a meeting remains constantly in view of all participants. Since the development process is transparent, it is always clear how an element or a link came about in the visual presentation. This does not leave much room for different interpretations. The benefits of visual facilitation can be exploited in a wide range of different situations such as workshops, training sessions, coachings and even acquisition talks.

Visual facilitation - effective during preparation of product portfolio management 

A company from the financial sector wants to redesign the process it uses to manage its product portfolio and would like to use a new tool for support. What the process should look like is not clear at the start. A series of workshops are intended to clarify the open questions. A top-down approach is used in the workshops. The three to five participants first clarify the context for the process including the input and output. This is followed by identification of the four core activities: project start, project management, project acceptance and continuous improvement. In the next stage, individual activities are described in greater detail. In all of the workshops, the participants work together to create posters. Between the workshops, finished drawings are produced based on these posters. They are then used to derive roadmaps which are also presented on posters. Questions are added here using Post-it notes and the answers obtained between the workshops.

Project visualisation: Introduction of a new product development process

Fig. 2: Project visualisation: Introduction of a new product development process (including publications and process training sessions)

Visual facilitation - effective in change management projects 

The company could see from the start that this procedure worked well. The process manager hung the posters behind his desk. The visualisations were received positively for multiple reasons. As was desired, the method had also resulted in active participation by team members who were initially sceptical. Moreover, the posters could be used to clarify terminology among the participants. The interfaces became clear and the visual presentation format helped to ensure that nothing was forgotten. Finally, the posters served as a good starting point for new employees, such as the persons who were responsible for evaluating the tool to support the process. Visual facilitation is also a promising method for acquisition talks due to its authoritativeness and clarity and the active involvement of all relevant persons. Example 2

Visual facilitation - effective during the business development of a development project

An IT company is to provide support for a development project. The customer advisor visits the potential client without a prepared presentation. Together, an overview of the work to be performed is developed on a small poster. Metaphors make for easier understanding. For example, the customer advisor draws a ship and explains the different roles that his company can assume in the project. A consulting role is possible or also direct participation. Referring to the ship metaphor, the company can take charge of just the navigation, or also of the oars and the helm. The potential client was very impressed by the methodology. The collaborative preparatory process showed him that his needs had been understood. At the same time, the poster could be used for communication with the company management.

Visual facilitation - analytical and drawling skills required

Along with the many benefits of this method, there are also two critical requirements for employees who use it. The more important one concerns analytical skills. Spatial presentation on paper presumes that the employees can easily create a correct visual presentation of relationships and dependencies. The second prerequisite concerns drawing skills. The better the poster looks, the more effective it will be. On the one hand, this goal can be achieved with a proper choice of metaphors and symbols. A light bulb for ideas and a shark fin between stylised waves for risks are obvious and visually attractive symbols that are relatively easy to draw. Moreover, there are some areas where training is possible, such as usage of colours. Of course, a visual facilitator will always need a certain level of innate drawing talent.