Visuals Matter! Designing and using effective visual representations to support project and portfolio decisions

Joana Geraldi, Mario Arlt

    Research output: Book/ReportBookResearch


    This book is the result of a two-year research project, funded by Project Management Institute and University College London on data visualization in the project and portfolio management contexts. Visuals are powerful and constitute an integral part of analyzing problems and making decisions. They can help managers to be sharper and quicker, especially if visuals are used in a mindful manner. The intent of this book is to increase the awareness of project, program and portfolio practitioners and scholars about the importance of visuals and to provide practical recommendations on how they can be used and designed mindfully. The research, which underpins this book, focuses on the impact of visuals on cognition of data in project portfolio decisions. The complexity of portfolio problems often exceed human cognitive limitations as a result of a number of factors, such as the large number of possible combinations of projects, interdependencies between projects, the uncertainty of future project outcomes, changing goals and constraints and the need to balance and negotiate different objectives of multiple stakeholders. A properly designed and used visual can help and act as a powerful cognition aid. It can, for example:
    • encourage taking different perspectives on the multi-faceted portfolio problem, e.g. portfolio balance, strategic alignment, maximization of financial value, identification of projects that do not meet threshold, etc.
    • enable decision makers to more effectively process large amounts of data and solve problems quicker and more accurately
    • extend our short-term memory
    • mediate and influence the direction of negotiations
    • store and share knowledge and act as a form of organizational memory
    • inspire thinking, challenge stakeholders or convey passion to engage or change in group interaction

    Yet, visuals can also deceive, whether designed and used with the intent to do so or not. Scant research has been dedicated to the role of visuals in organizations, and, not surprisingly, most managers exhibit little literacy and consciousness in the use of visuals (Whyte, Ewenstein, Hales, & Tidd, 2008) and fail to exploit the potential that visuals have to offer. To tap into their potential, a mindful use and design of visuals is required. Throughout this book we discuss how visuals function and how we “function with visuals”. We condensed literature on data visualization and visual dimension of organizations (within organization theory) into five guiding principles for visuals in the context of portfolio decisions and concluded that mindful use of visuals should consider interactive, purposeful, truthful, efficient and aesthetically pleasant features of visuals. The design principles were tested and validated through experimentation with over 200 participants. Our work contributes to the knowledge on project portfolio decisions and data visualization and provides practical recommendations to promote a mindful design and use of visuals in project and portfolio contexts
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherProject Management Institute
    Number of pages156
    ISBN (Print)978-1-62825-078-7, 1-62825-078-X
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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