Visual project management: Tools, templates, and strategies

Headshot kontributor Jenny ThaiJenny Thai
29 April 2024
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Visual project management allows you to see your project tasks and workload displayed in a visual format. When you can see your work, it’s easier to streamline efforts across your team, stay on track, and avoid potential bottlenecks. Often, this is done as a project timeline, calendar, or Kanban board. Learn more about the most common visual project management tools and how to use each (with examples).

The way we each process information is varied, but we all have one thing in common—visualizing work in some format is essential. Visual project management is a way to manage projects that blends more traditional task management techniques, reporting tools, and communications with a visual representation of your work. 

What is visual project management?

Visual project management is a method to organize and manage work in more visual layouts, such as timelines, Kanban boards, calendars, and other graphical formats. Visual project management methodologies incorporate the same aspects as their non-visual counterparts—things like tasks, deadlines, and team members—but in a way that’s easier to track, view, and use. For example, where you might have sent a team member a to-do list in the past, you can instead add them to a visual project timeline with assigned tasks.

​​By visualizing tasks, deadlines, resources, and progress, teams can more easily understand, plan, and execute their projects. Key concepts in visual project management include:

  • Visualizing project schedules, task dependencies, and milestones.

  • Tracking progress and spotting potential issues or blockers.

  • Facilitating team collaboration and communication.

  • Providing at-a-glance status updates for stakeholders.

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Benefits of visual project management

Visual project management provides at-a-glance insight into what everyone on your team is working on, when project deliverables are due, what your team milestones are, and more. It’s a more interactive form of work management that makes team collaboration easier. There are lots of reasons to switch to or include visual project management formats in your work, including:

  • Getting faster insights. You can quickly and easily digest information about the project status, metrics, and project tasks all in one shareable dashboard. 

  • Reducing bottlenecks. Team members and other project stakeholders can access the information they need when they need it, reducing potential bottlenecks.

  • Following a project’s lifecycle. From assigning project tasks to connecting with communication tools and ending with reporting, you can use variations of visual project management methods from start to finish.

  • Coordinating as a team. Empower cross-functional collaboration by seeing your overall project in one place

  • Making work accessible to all. Give executive stakeholders and leadership insight into your team's work (without them getting bogged down in the details).

  • Identifying potential blockers earlier. Visualize task dependencies, milestones, and blockers so you can address problems before they happen.

Visual project management tools and techniques

There are several popular methods to create your own visual project management tool, and each has its own pros and cons. Choosing which approach is best for you depends on the type of project you’re planning and how you’ll use it. 

Regardless of what you choose, all three of these work best with project management software. Depending on your project management tool, you can make any of these formats completely customizable, add automation, and use intuitive features such as drag-and-drop builders.

Read: How to use Asana Lists, Boards, Calendar, and Timeline View

Here’s how each of these visualization tools work and what kinds of projects they’re best suited for.

1. Project timelines and charts

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One way to visualize a project plan is to create a timeline or Gantt chart of your project schedule. With timeline management, you can organize project details in a bar chart to show when each task or deliverable in your project needs to be completed and how long each task will take.

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When to use project timelines & Gantt charts

Timelines are helpful when you have a timely project with tasks that need to hit their deadlines. They show you when to start each task and how long it will take. By mapping everything out in a project timeline, you can better allocate resources, staff team members on different steps, and visualize dependencies.

With timeline management, you can create a project plan that shows how all of the pieces of your project fit together and make changes as needed to stop problems before they start. Timelines are great for:

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When not to use project timelines or Gantt charts

Timeline management is most useful when every task has a start and end date. Think of your timeline like a visual bar chart—if your tasks don’t have start and end dates, there isn’t much to visualize. If you’re planning a project with a lot of daily tasks or one where the due dates are flexible, such as with Agile project management, it might be more helpful to visualize your work on a project calendar or Kanban board.

Example of a project timeline

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Let’s say you’re planning a product launch. In order to hit your goals successfully, you need to work as a dynamic, cross-functional team, incorporating team members from product, engineering, marketing, sales, and customer support to pull off a successful launch. Because you’re working with so many different stakeholders, the project is bound to be complicated.

A timeline gives everyone a visual of the project progress and roadmap so you're all on the same page. As a result, you can better coordinate resource management, forecast timing to hit your milestones, see project dependencies (to proactively unblock them), and view all start and end dates in one place. This way, everyone on your project team has a clear view of your launch plan and what’s required to make it a success from start to finish.

Tip: Share and manage your timeline with teammates

Once you’ve put together a timeline for your project plan, don’t forget to loop in teammates and stakeholders and update details as the project gets underway. By sharing the same central source of truth, everyone on your team will have real-time insight into all of your team’s work.

In Asana, you can easily share your project with stakeholders and teammates. By visualizing your work in Timeline View, you can get buy-in on your plan and adjust and adapt schedules as things change. Visualize dependencies between tasks and pinpoint dependency conflicts before they start.

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2. Kanban boards

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Kanban boards are a visual system for organizing a project where each task or actionable piece of work is represented by a card. These cards are then arranged in one of several columns representing the stages of a project or process, the owner of the task, the priority of the work, or whatever system works best for your team. As each task or deliverable progresses, you move the card representing the task from column to column so you can easily see where in the process the task is.

Templat papan Kanban gratis

When to use Kanban boards

Kanban-style project management is useful for projects that have multiple stages. These stages can be simple—for example, to-do, working on, finished—but the important thing is that these stages are a way for tasks to move from stage to stage. For example, Kanban boards are great tools for Agile teams working in sprints since they allow you to clearly see how work is progressing. In particular, Kanban boards are great for:

Example of a boards project

A bug tracking workflow is an example of a project that can be managed using Kanban boards because, in order to complete each task, they need to move through certain stages. For example, when you get a task for a new bug, it would first need to be ID’d and added to the backlog, then worked on, and eventually completed. To put this into practice, you’d set up your Kanban board with columns representing the following stages:

  • New bugs (i.e. your backlog)

  • Ready to be worked on

  • In progress

  • In QA

  • Complete

For every bug that’s reported, your team can easily create a new card and then move it through these columns as work progresses, effectively creating and updating a task list for each stage.

Tip: Create and share your board online

You’ll often find Kanban boards built on physical boards with sticky notes, but did you know that you can also create them online with a tool like Asana?

Building your Kanban board in Asana gives you more capabilities, like adding custom fields, descriptions, files, and collaborators to each card, so you can easily capture additional project information to help everyone on your team work together successfully.

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3. Project calendars

[Product UI] Example calendar layout with abstracted UI (Calendar view)

Kanban boards and timelines work well for many kinds of projects, but sometimes what you need is a traditional calendar. It may be simple and straightforward, but it can also be ideal for planning certain projects.

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When to use project calendars

A calendar is great for when you need to manage lots of tasks with different due dates. Knowing when you need to complete a milestone or deliver an asset in any given week, month, or year helps you plan ahead and successfully execute on time. In particular, project calendars can help you manage your:

When not to use project calendars

Project calendars can make your tasks come to life and help you plan ahead for the week, month, or quarter. However, project calendars are less helpful when you have more than a handful of tasks due each day. If you need to really drill down into the work your team is doing on a daily basis, a Kanban board or even to-do list-style view might be better for your team.

Example of a calendar project

[Product UI] Content Calendar project example (Calendar view)

If you’re planning a project, a project calendar lets you see the work coming up in the next few days and weeks. This is especially useful for projects that involve many different stakeholders and teams. 

For example, if you have a master editorial calendar, everyone in the company knows what content is planned and published and when certain topics will go live. That way, the sales team can send relevant articles to their leads, managers can distribute assets to their teams, and the editorial team knows who’s working on which topic.

Tip: Make calendars interactive with visual project management software

If you’re using Asana to manage your project calendar, you can create a list of tasks in a project, set due dates, and then switch to Calendar View to automatically see your tasks on the calendar. If needed, you can move tasks around on your calendar to quickly change due dates or add to project portfolios for even more collaboration.

Visualkan kalender tim dengan Asana

4. Other visual project management tools

In addition to timelines, Kanban boards, and calendars, there are several other powerful visual collaboration tools that can help you manage projects more effectively. These tools offer dynamic ways to organize information, track progress, and collaborate with your team. 

While basic options like Excel spreadsheets and physical whiteboards can work for simple projects, tools purpose-built for visual project management are essential for complex projects. Asana offers a comprehensive suite of these visual tools, seamlessly integrated to help you achieve success.

[product UI] Reporting dashboard for website launch (Dashboards)

Data visualization in project reporting

Reporting is another aspect of project management where visuals can have a big impact. Using charts, graphs, and dashboards to report on progress, performance, and other project KPIs helps communicate a clearer picture to stakeholders than raw data alone.

Read: Step-by-step guide to data-driven decision making

Scrum boards

Scrum boards are similar to Kanban boards but are more structured around timeboxed sprints and Agile rituals like standups, reviews, and retrospectives. The board is reset between each sprint. They help Scrum teams commit to specific work for each sprint and stay focused on priority items.

Read: Scrumban: The best of two Agile methodologies

Work breakdown structures (WBS)

A work breakdown structure visually breaks down the project scope into smaller, more manageable chunks. It acts as a hierarchical tree diagram, with the overall project goal at the top and increasingly granular work packages below. WBS diagrams help teams see all the required work and create more accurate estimates.

Mind maps

Mind maps are visual diagrams that organize information around a central topic or idea. They use branching lines, colors, and images to show hierarchical relationships between concepts. In project management, mind maps are useful for brainstorming, organizing ideas, and breaking down complex projects. Digital mind-mapping tools make it easy to rearrange elements and collaborate with others.

Read: 4 types of concept maps (with free templates)

Choosing the best visual project management software

Selecting the right visual project management tool is an important decision that can impact your team's productivity, collaboration, and overall project success. With so many options available, it's essential to consider key features that will empower your team to work efficiently.

Read: Project management software and tools

Customizable project views

A visual project management platform with multiple, customizable project views allows you to visualize your projects in the way that makes the most sense for your team. This can be a Gantt chart for resource allocation, a Kanban board for software development workflows, or a calendar view for deadline-driven projects.

Intuitive interface and automation

An intuitive, drag-and-drop interface makes it easy for team members to update tasks, adjust timelines, and keep information current. Meanwhile, automated workflows streamline processes and reduce manual effort.

Team collaboration and communication

Effective team communication and collaboration are vital to project success, so look for a visual project management tool with built-in communication features. Such features should allow your team to discuss tasks, share updates, and make informed decisions without leaving the context of the project.

Baca: 12 kiat komunikasi efektif di tempat kerja

Real-time reporting and visibility

Reporting dashboards provide real-time visibility into project progress, performance metrics, and potential roadblocks. This keeps everyone aligned and enables data-driven decision making.

Accessibility and integrations

Accessibility is also key. Your team should be able to update tasks and view project information from anywhere, at any time. A mobile app ensures your team can stay connected and productive on the go. And with integrations with popular tools like Google Docs, Dropbox, Microsoft Office, and Slack, your project data stays in sync across all the tools your team uses every day.

Read: Top 11 integrations to keep your tools and teams connected with Asana

Getting started with visual project management

Implementing visual project management in your organization may seem daunting, but the benefits are well worth the effort. By following a few key steps and best practices, you can set your team up for success.

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Pilot on a single project

Start by piloting visual project management on a single project. This allows your team to get comfortable with the new tools and processes on a smaller scale before rolling them out to the entire organization. Provide training and support to ensure everyone understands how to use the platform effectively.

Establish a consistent structure

As you set up your first visual project, establish a consistent structure with standardized naming conventions, color coding, and status labels. This makes it easy for team members to quickly understand the state of a project at a glance. Consider creating project templates to streamline future setup and ensure consistency across all your initiatives.

Continuously optimize and measure success

Remember, visual project management is an ongoing process of continuous optimization. Track key metrics over time, such as the percentage of projects delivered on time and on budget, cycle times, and team member engagement. Use this data to identify areas for improvement and make data-driven decisions to optimize your processes.

Read: Understanding kaizen: A guide to continuous improvement in business

Seek feedback and refine

Regularly seek feedback from your team and stakeholders on the visibility and clarity of your project plans and progress. This valuable input can help you refine your approach and ensure that your visual project management practice is meeting the needs of everyone involved.

Read: Don’t like giving feedback? These 20 tips are for you

By leveraging visual project management, you'll be able to make more informed decisions and ultimately deliver projects more effectively. With the right tool and a commitment to continuous improvement, you'll be well on your way to reaching new heights of project success.

Asana's visual project management

Discover the power of visual project management with Asana. Whether using a timeline, Kanban board, or calendar view, Asana helps you visualize every step of your project, ensuring no detail is missed. 

Share your plans seamlessly with teammates and manage your projects all in one place. Experience the simplicity and effectiveness of Asana's tools—perfect for any team looking to boost productivity and clarity with an easy-to-use project management solution. Try Asana today and see how it can transform your project workflows.

No matter which view you go with, you can easily share your plan with teammates and run your project in one place, with Asana. From beautiful reporting visuals to succinct timelines, Asana is an easy-to-use project management solution for every team.

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