Why CIOs Should Leverage the Power of Visuals

Visual tools help reduce complexity, enabling organizations to better collaborate, strategize, communicate, and deliver on goals.

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The CIO's job has never been simple, but the move to the cloud has made standard business operations even more complex. To support today’s Agile approach, CIOs have to manage and align multiple teams across the organization to achieve the larger business strategy. COVID-19 has additionally required CIOs to create new processes that enable IT organizations to function as normal—but in a remote environment.

Many organizations address these difficulties by adding even more systems, procedures and policies to their operations. In other words, fighting complexity with more complexity.

Piling new administrative processes on top of what already exists places new requirements on employees to spend increased time on administrative tasks. In some organizations, these types of non-value-added activities take up as much of 60% of employees’ time, leaving less bandwidth and energy for innovation and creativity. The added red tape can make it difficult for teams to adapt and stay aligned, and contributors can quickly lose sight of the overall strategic framework. 

Visual Tools for Success

CIOs need an alternative approach to managing this complexity. One of the most powerful ways to address the growing number of processes is with visuals. Words will always play an important role, but walls of text can obscure gaps and bottlenecks in the very policies, processes and roadmaps those documents seek to describe.

On the other hand, visuals reduce complexity in multiple ways. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Clarifying Dependencies and Areas for Improvement

Flowcharts, diagrams and other visualization techniques show a process, strategy or roadmap from start to finish, effectively clarifying what needs to happen and when. Instead of pouring over stacks of written documents and spreadsheets, stakeholders can clearly see dependencies and bottlenecks. Most importantly, these visuals can also incorporate necessary resources alongside the tasks to be completed.

Visualizing processes allows CIOs to clearly identify when teams are overburdened and where delays in delivery can occur. For example, if one team member is handling too many tasks that others are waiting on, timelines and assignments may need to be re-evaluated. A flowchart can visually identify this roadblock before the individual becomes overwhelmed, allowing tasks to be reallocated before delays occur.

Communicating to Diverse Stakeholders

Every project involves multiple stakeholders that differ dramatically in their points of view, approach to work, positions in the organization, area of expertise, and even languages. In these settings, visuals are particularly valuable for CIOs to communicate complex, technical information to a non-technical audience. For example, using a cloud infrastructure diagram can quickly illustrate upcoming changes to the company’s cloud environment and how that will impact larger business initiatives.

In addition to creating reference materials for asynchronous collaboration, visuals can also support teams in real time as they brainstorm and organize project details. Within a visual collaboration platform, individual contributors and managers can ideate and identify specific tasks, dependencies and timelines. Teams can then use those visual documents as a single reference point to ensure cross-functional alignment on priorities and assignments. 

Keeping Sight of the Goal

Diagrams, flowcharts, and whiteboard sessions can help teams recognize the overarching objectives a project was designed to achieve. Visuals can simplify project logistics and dependencies, enabling key stakeholders to quickly understand objectives in the right context. For example, IT teams can create diagrams of the existing infrastructure to highlight the overall business and customer impacts a new project will provide. Additionally, visuals can empower teams to most effectively prioritize tasks once a project is underway.

Bridging Silos

Silos are unavoidable—and even necessary—in every IT organization. They allow teams to focus on their area of expertise, but silos can also make it difficult to work cross-functionally. Visuals can help bridge existing gaps in communication and understanding between teams and even departments.

How does this happen? To start, visuals provide an overview of the entire project to keep cross-functional teams aligned on priorities and overall objectives. Contributors can also quickly see responsibilities across teams to understand dependencies and workloads while also easily understanding the elements of a project in progress.

Managing Long-Term Complexity through Visuals

The innate complexity of the modern business world is here to stay, and as IT becomes increasingly involved in every aspect of the business, that complexity will only increase.  The best response to managing this complexity is intelligent simplification wherever possible—in defining objectives, collaborating on strategies, communicating across teams, and carrying projects over the finish line. Visuals can help simplify all of these activities, ensure clear communication, and enable businesses to meet the challenge of complexity at every level of the organization.

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