What’s one business concept that's widely recognized as important, often blamed when projects go off the rails, and rarely defined clearly?
If you guessed project visibility, you’ve got a great mind for projects – or maybe you just read the giant title up above. Either way, kudos to you!
Many organizations and project leaders seem to recognize the importance of project visibility, but too often it’s defined by its absence.
In this article, we’ll show you what true project visibility looks like and seven powerful strategies to help connect teams, inspire collaboration, and improve project efficiency.
What is project visibility and why is it challenging to provide?
Project visibility organizes project information and data in a way that helps team members, project managers, and project stakeholders better see the full lifecycle or progress of a project.
With high project visibility, these parties can examine:
Project performance or project metrics
Resource allocation within a project
The status and progression of tasks
Potential risks or project deadline issues
In a best-case scenario, these and other data points are presented visually in one or more formats that teams and individuals can absorb at a glance. Further, this information must be centrally available in a known location: Anyone who needs to see it should be able to do so and know where to go.
Project visibility has massive implications beyond any individual project too. A company that’s deeply committed to project visibility helps create a culture of visibility more broadly, leading to growing transparency, project collaboration, and accountability.
Why is project visibility such an important attribute to be mindful of and to work toward?
Because it’s key to project success: A team must know where it’s going if it’s ever going to get there. Team members need to know which steps to tackle, in which order, and whether preceding tasks have been completed.
And everyone — from task owners to senior stakeholders — needs to know how well a team is doing at completing those tasks and accomplishing those goals.
Project visibility delivers this knowledge quickly to anyone who wants or needs it.
Common factors that create a lack of project visibility
Few would argue that their project would benefit from less visibility. Yet as much as we all love the idea of project visibility, actually making it happen can be difficult.
Do any of these three common factors that create a lack of project visibility sound familiar? They’re common in businesses across all sectors.
A lack of process and roadmap documentation
When you don’t have clear process documentation, projects don’t tend to follow predictable processes. Each team or project manager implements their own unique spin on processes, and some are naturally less forthcoming than others on the data behind their decisions (if they’re making data-driven decisions at all).
A lack of process documentation — or a failure to follow that documentation — can lead to devastating results. One legendary Microsoft Azure outage that led to a collective 4.46 billion hours of downtime happened because an engineer bypassed processes and pushed out a “fix” before it was approved.
Now, the stakes might not be quite that high at your business. But a lack of process can certainly sink a project or cause it to miss deadlines.
By putting in place processes that demand data-driven, visible decisions, you’ll avoid problems of this type and move your company further toward visibility.
Poor relationships between stakeholders
The larger your organization grows, the more tiers you end up with in terms of access to information. This is natural and can be beneficial, but when the tiers turn into information silos, you know things are getting out of hand.
When companies have strained or non-trusting relationships between key project stakeholders (for example, the leaders of departments that work closely together getting into a turf war), those stakeholders can withhold key information or make decisions without informing the proper parties.
If you’ve ever lived through a bad-faith version of this, you know how painful it can be. You lose visibility into specific decisions, and your teams suffer the moral consequences.
Not having the right tools to give visibility
As projects grow in length and complexity, gaining project visibility is nearly impossible without the right software. Any kind of manual tracking system you put in place to try to increase visibility becomes yet one more document or chart you have to remember to update.
And when a document falls out of date, it becomes the opposite of visibility, obscuring the truth about a project. This is exactly why so many companies feel a weight lifted off their shoulders when moving from project management in Excel to a tool that provides full visibility.
For example, the Teamwork Project Health Report helps teams, leaders, and stakeholders get a high-level understanding of the health of a project in an easy-to-read report. It’s just one of the many ways Teamwork helps organizations achieve true project visibility.
The 5 key parts of project visibility
As we mentioned earlier, project visibility has become a bit of a buzzword. It has turned into something people throw around when something isn’t going well, without taking the time to define the term or think about what needs fixing.
In our experience, project visibility has five main components. Let’s look briefly at each one:
1. Defining project goals
Starting at the highest level, often referred to as the 30,000-foot view, project visibility begins when the goals of the project are clearly defined.
Questions like what’s the point of this project? and why am I doing this task? are not what any project manager or team lead wants to hear. However, sometimes these simple questions are genuine and asked because the answers aren’t clearly defined or documented.
If a project’s goals aren’t both clearly established and published somewhere that everyone can access, then you can’t get any further into project visibility. At the very least, using project milestones can help you provide teams with a roadmap of what's expected and by when to reach success.
In other words, you can’t measure progress if you don’t know where you’re going.
2. Providing regular project status updates
The next component of project visibility is providing regular project status updates, such as in a weekly team meeting or management huddle.
It’s not enough to kick off a project and define its end goals – teams and stakeholders need consistent updates on how the project is going. Make sure these are clear and helpful — no longer than they need to be and full of actionable information.
Visual dashboards, charts, and graphs are all great ways to increase visibility during these update meetings as well.
One word of caution: It’s a common mistake to assume that just because you’re having these meetings, you have project visibility. Don’t fall into that trap.
While regular project status updates are vital, they aren’t a proxy for project visibility — they’re just a piece of the puzzle.
3. Identifying team member roles
Next up is making clear who is on the team and what each team member is responsible for. This is an often overlooked part of project visibility.
Tasks are defined too broadly and no one person is given responsibility, leading to a great lack of clarity about who should do what and when. Strong project management tools like Teamwork make it easy to clarify and view roles so everyone is on the same page.
Quickly and easily delegate tasks to specific team members and make assignments visible to everyone on the team. This way, everyone sees who is responsible for what — and who’s keeping on top of their assignments.
4. Documenting any possible risks
Every project carries risks and many of these are known at the outset. Make sure these are documented as well.
These potential risks can serve as a warning to team members of pitfalls to avoid, and they also communicate to stakeholders that the project is well-planned. Tasks marked with risk levels help teams identify what might be a problem if X, Y, and Z don't get completed.
And as a project manager, there’s another perhaps selfish benefit here. If something does go wrong due to a reason you outlined in your risk analysis, you’re much less likely to end up with the blame.
5. Scheduling communication and collaboration
It’s entirely possible for a project to start out with visibility and gradually lose it over time. One way this happens is a failure to communicate as the project continues. Team members get busy and sometimes team communication lapses.
Scheduling specific times for communication or using communication tools that can integrate with your projects helps instill a culture of openness and visibility. It also brings to the surface issues that need to be escalated or at least noted — things team members might not have thought to mention if there wasn’t a set time to do so.
Advantages of project visibility
Hopefully, by this point, you’re already starting to see the advantages and benefits of project visibility. But just in case you’re not fully convinced that it’s something worth pursuing, here are specific ways project visibility will help you and your team:
Project visibility gives your team a clear and flexible roadmap
Project collaboration is a crucial component of success. But it’s next to impossible for teams to collaborate well until they have a clear shared vision of what they’re collaborating on.
Every project needs a concrete starting place and a plan for how to get from point A to point Z. And everyone involved in a project needs to have access to that information.
The roadmap won’t be perfect, and it will certainly change over the course of the project. But it will still provide a crucial orienting point for the myriad decisions and disagreements that occur.
With a strong yet flexible roadmap, you’ll have a stable place from which to consider changes from lobbying, compromise, reprioritization, and unexpected initial hurdles to the process.
And that’s a much better approach than simply giving in to the loudest voice in the room or chasing any and every new idea that pops up. To sum this up, a project roadmap ensures everyone stays aligned and aware of both the initial project goals and the outline of steps needed to complete the project.
Project visibility makes deadlines more predictable
Anyone who’s done project work has likely been blindsided by a deadline or two. Sometimes, it’s the individual’s fault: The information was there, but they just didn’t see it or didn’t look.
But often, this kind of problem happens because a project doesn’t have enough visibility. Team members get blindsided by deadlines because those deadlines truly weren’t visible or available.
Accountability is the other side of this coin. If everyone knows that one person is supposed to deliver the wireframe by Tuesday, that person likely feels greater accountability to deliver on time. When everything is a mystery, no one feels particular pressure to deliver.
Project visibility increases team autonomy and streamlines workflows
As a team member, having visibility into when prior steps will be completed and when your own part in a project will need to be worked on allows you to plan for what’s coming, balance your workload, or ask for help if it isn’t all going to get done on time.
In this way, tighter project management that leads to greater project visibility actually increases team members’ autonomy (quite the opposite of what team members might assume).
You’ll also experience more efficient workflow optimization. By adding transparency to your tasks, you reduce bottlenecks and choke points, while lessening the likelihood of work being assigned out of order.
Project visibility saves your company time and money
Ultimately, improving project visibility affects your company’s bottom line, saving you both time and money. All the advantages we’ve covered thus far align to reduce the time spent planning and tracking projects and increase efficiencies by correctly aligning tasks and dependencies.
And the ultimate result of changes like those? Completing projects becomes less expensive, with fewer delays, roadblocks, and overages.
7 ways to majorly increase project visibility across your team
Increasing project visibility is clearly a smart move for your teams and your business.
But how do you actually move from a lack of visibility to optimized visibility?
Start with these seven strategies, each of which can significantly improve visibility into projects and processes at all levels of your organization.
1. Develop a project communication plan
One of the keys to project visibility is consistent, accurate, timely communication. Most of the time, it isn’t that team members don’t want to communicate. It’s that they don’t think to communicate, or they don’t know when communication is expected.
A project management communication plan can help to bridge this gap by laying out exactly who communicates what at which stages of the project. This plan should encompass everything from task completion notifications to high-level stakeholder reports, specifying:
Who sends the communication
What triggers the communication
Who receives the communication
Which communication channel is used for sending
2. Create and send regular project status reports
Projects can start out with great visibility and lose it along the way. To keep information flowing throughout the life of a project, make sure you’re creating and sending regular project status reports.
These can take numerous forms, depending on the size of the team and the length or complexity of the project. It could be a regular weekly status email that outlines milestones and completed tasks.
Maybe it's better to hold weekly meetings where the team looks over Gantt charts for the project. Larger status reports for stakeholders might take the form of a slide deck as well.
Of course, it makes sense to tailor the format to meet the needs of the project and the audience. But whatever shape it takes, the most important thing is to get these status reports made and sent regularly to all appropriate team members and stakeholders.
3. Use a task management software like Teamwork
Sometimes the problem isn’t an unwillingness to share data. It’s that the project data has grown too complex and unwieldy to handle well using your current methods or that project managers lack straightforward ways of communicating the data to others.
A task management tool such as Teamwork can simplify task management and drastically increase visibility by organizing project data into multiple easy-to-understand views.
Many project managers use Teamwork to plan projects already, but they might not think to share their access for further visibility. But bringing other people into Teamwork is easy to do and brings an entirely new level of transparency and visibility.
Learn more about customizing permissions and privacy in Teamwork projects.
Sharing access to your project management tool is especially powerful if you work with external clients on this level. That said, you don’t always want your clients to see all the gory details of a project, which is why setting permissions is key to creating the most appropriate project visibility.
Some companies get the best of both worlds by creating two task boards for a single client. One board is internal and contains important notes and discussions being had by the internal team, while the other board is cleaner, showing the client only what they need to see.
Want to see how Teamwork does this for thousands of teams? Get started for free today.
4. Conduct (productive) strategy and status meetings
Strategy and status meetings are key components of project visibility — just make sure that every meeting you call has a purpose and delivers value.
Your early strategy meetings are where you set the direction of the project, establish its goals, and gather the information you need to build out project schedules. Then your ongoing status meetings are where you keep supplying more and more project information.
5. Have a shared space for resources
As great as your communication might be, people have to be able to find it. That one thing you said in that one meeting about five months back may have stuck with you, but (assuming it’s in the minutes or notes) others might need to refer back to it.
The same goes for minor scope creep or policy changes that happen during a project and really any other ongoing or long-term project resources.
Establish a centralized, shared space for all these resources. This could be a network folder or a space on Google Drive or Dropbox. Or it could be a shared space in Microsoft Teams or even in your project management software itself.
6. Have a project manager for task delegation and centralized communication
The importance of a dedicated project manager (PM), especially for longer or more complex projects, can’t be overstated. Especially when it comes to task delegation and centralized communication, you need a dedicated resource who can focus on these areas.
Ideally, that resource is neither mired in completing the work directly nor serving in a management role. You want a peer, a member of the team, doing this work — and that’s what PMs are all about.
Use the free Teamwork Project Tracker Template to see what organized tasks could look like for your team!
7. Keep public notes attached to shared resources
Throughout the entire project life cycle, make sure you keep up good documentation that remains accurate and up-to-date and that includes challenges or developments that occur along the way.
Creating and updating these resources isn’t enough though.
You also want to make sure they’re stored in a shared space so that the team can access them. These documents can provide insights into decision-making, timeline changes, and reprioritizations, so it’s vital that they be kept up-to-date and accessible.
Increase your team’s project visibility with Teamwork
As you work to increase project visibility within your team or organization, make sure you’re using a work management tool that adds visibility and insight every step of the way.
Teamwork does exactly that, leading teams toward greater and greater project visibility and success. See what Teamwork can do for your teams. Get started for free today.