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Removing Barriers and Building Trust through Visual Communication

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By Amber Tutt

Portfolio Team Manager

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Every good manager — both of people and of products — will tell you that setting expectations is key to a successful relationship. I’d like to add that it is just as important to ensure that each person and team has accurately comprehended the expectations. Sometimes, that means communicating visually.

Visual communication can be as simple as a snapshot of a whiteboard, as straightforward as a PowerPoint presentation or as robust and thrilling as a 3D virtual reality prototype. You don’t need to have a large budget to factor in visual communication, but you do need to have compassion and a desire to provide clear and comprehensible expectations.

For example, when building an IoT product, the Product Manager may be responsible for two to three different contracted teams: hardware, application and platform. There are also the legal and regulatory stakeholders, advertising and marketing folks, and so on. In this situation, visual communication can be an excellent tool to help get all these different groups on the same page in a way that everyone can easily understand.

I once went into a meeting with a legal team to discuss which vendor was responsible for which part of a build. This should have been an easy meeting, however somehow we all left a little bit more baffled, and frankly a little more frustrated. We were lacking a visual representation of something we ended up creating and naming our “Partner Map.” This map took less than one hour to design, however it ended up being one of our most valuable assets throughout the entire relationship.

Some of my personal visual communication tools include:

  • My Nerdery notebook and fine point sharpies (purple, fuschia, lime green)
  • White board walls or tables, colored markers and smartphone screenshots
  • Google Drawings
  • Trello
  • JIRA
  • Video conference calls
  • Animated gifs (sparingly)

I once sensed that a group of stakeholders on a large project were anxious. They’d worked on projects of this caliber before, but what I didn’t know was that they’d been unsuccessful — more than once. What I did know was that they weren’t opening up. Their arms were crossed over their chests and they were glancing at their smartphones.

I got up out of my seat and asked the team to help me draw something out on the whiteboard, while also sharing about a time that I once had green marker on my face for half a day after a workshop. With that slight bit of humility and the simple act of talking through our plan and drawing it out, we were able to increase overall comprehension. Those stakeholders uncrossed their arms and flipped their phones over. They were able to clearly see and share with us where we were going to run into roadblocks.

We work in an industry filled with complex concepts and nomenclature differences. Not only that, but the product is oftentimes something that cannot be touched for weeks or months. So, whether you’re managing people, a product, or both, the benefits of introducing visual communication can help you remove barriers and build trust. I may never fully comprehend what we avoided by whiteboarding that day, but I do know that we gained a trusted partner and helped each member of the team reach what we can all comprehend as success.

Want to learn more about what it’s like to work with a team of Nerds? Contact us.

Published on 01.30.18