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 boards. 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.
Visual project management is a way for you to organize and manage work in more visual layouts, such as timelines, Kanban boards, and calendars. 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.Read: How to create a project timeline in 7 steps
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 it easier to collaborate. There are lots of reasons to switch to or include visual project management formats into your work, including:
Getting faster insights. You can quickly and easily digest information when the project status, metrics, and project tasks all in one place.
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 everything 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 project dependencies, milestones, and blockers so you can address problems before they happen.
There are three popular ways to create your own visual project management tool:
Timelines (or Gantt charts)
Each of these ways to visualize your work has its own pros and cons, and 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 in a 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.
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.Create a timeline template
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:Create a Gantt chart template
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 in a project calendar or Kanban board.
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, 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.
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.Map project timelines with Asana
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.Free Kanban board template
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:
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 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
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.
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.Create Kanban boards with Asana
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.Visualize team calendars with Asana
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:
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.
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.
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.Visualize team calendars with Asana
Data visualization is another important aspect of visual project management. When you need to create reports or send status updates, it’s much more effective to display the information in a visual format. For example, if you’re tracking a website launch, you can send a progress report in text, such as: We've completed 27% of the targeted tasks with our current budget of $1,000.
Or, you can show it in a visual format, such as:
There is a time and place for both, but more and more, stakeholders prefer to see data in a visual way that they can quickly digest and easily share with their own bosses and stakeholders.
There’s no best visual project management tool, but there is a best one for you and your current workload. Using a timeline, Kanban board, or calendar is a great way to visualize all the steps in your project, so you can see the bigger picture without missing any key details.