The Human Aspect of
Visual Mapping


Visual mapping is a way of organizing and expressing data in a graphical format. While it’s used in a wide range of industries to bring order to and track business-critical information, in construction it’s the data dashboard that serves as a visual map to help better manage all the information associated with a project.

They’re certainly more understandable than trying to make sense of endless rows on a computer spreadsheet. Especially when you consider all the data even a single capital project amasses over the course of its life cycle — the material inventory, subcontractor schedules, change orders, safety incidents, the cost and schedule impact of internal and external risk factors, punch list repairs and so on.

It’s more than just what the data shows; it’s about who will be accessing and relying on that data. It’s this human aspect of visual mapping that presents opportunities to connect people with data in a way that makes sense and is easy to digest. Here’s how:

Accessing data dashboards can be empowering for project team members. Think of this kind of visual mapping as an approach that levels the playing field of a project, putting more of the data where it belongs: in the hands of users. First, it allows them to have a better understanding of the project’s progress and status. Data dashboards provide a visual representation of key metrics that can be used to compare performance against budget and other goals.

This is especially important for stakeholders who are not directly involved in day-to-day activities but who want an update on how things are going. Second, dashboards provide an opportunity for teams to collaborate by sharing information about how well they are performing against their targets and other metrics. Finally, when teams are empowered by this kind of information exchange, they become more engaged with the project because they feel like they’re contributing more meaningfully to it.

Human experience brings context to the data. As the role of technology in capital projects continues to grow, so too does the essential role of human intelligence. When interpreting project data, adding context from the unique experiences and expertise of team members can be an effective way to gain additional insights into it. They contribute the why of what’s showing on the data dashboard to inform the what and how to act upon it.

For example, if you were analyzing deviations in cost or schedule, or even curious data trends, you may want to ask questions such as: Why did this happen? How did this affect other areas of the project? What should we do differently next time? The answers will be more meaningful when they come from team members with previous experience in similar projects or relevant industry experience who can better gauge whether something warrants discussion, action or maintaining status quo.

Dashboards can help decision makers understand their project and make choices with better information. A data-driven organization is one that uses data to make decisions. To do this, you need to be able to access the right information at any time, in any place. Data dashboards provide contractors, owners and other key stakeholders much-needed timely context for otherwise complicated sets of information across all portfolio projects.

Especially with so much complex and technical data associated with capital projects, dashboards should be simple and straightforward so it’s easier to recognize patterns and relationships, even for non-experts. When everyone understands what they’re looking at, data dashboards simultaneously become a communication tool and a decision-making tool. For instance, by displaying key performance indicators (KPIs), dashboards can help decision makers identify trends and patterns that may otherwise be missed. Dashboards can also be used as early warning systems for potential problems or issues before they become too big or costly to solve quickly and easily. In both cases, dashboards facilitate conversations and collaborative informed decisions based on facts rather than gut instincts or assumptions.

Data dashboards are used by project team members and other stakeholders; consider how they’ll be viewed and interacted with when organizing them. Visual mapping allows you to easily organize and present information in a way that makes sense for your audience. What do they need to know? How do they want to see it? Where and how will they access it? What questions do they have?  As you consider those questions, think about what information is really needed at different stages of a project (e.g., planning vs construction vs operations vs maintenance). Some suggestions:

  • Make the data dashboard interface simple to understand using formats that are most appropriate for the type of information, limited color schemes and easy-to-read fonts.
  • Be careful not to squeeze as many metrics on the dashboard as possible; there can be a fine line between too many details and not enough. You want people reading your dashboard quickly with enough information so they can understand what’s going on with the project, with the option of drilling further into the data for more detail as desired or needed.
  • Make sure that your dashboard is accessible on mobile devices so users can easily view and interact with it on the go.

The transparency inherent in dashboards fosters confidence and understanding of project performance and status. And it can also inspire continued use of and reliance on this visual mapping tool. This begins with making sure the data dashboards are accurate and current so everyone will trust what they see as they continue to make decisions based on them. Knowing that they have access to real-time information about their projects can help increase their trust in the team and improve their overall perception of the project. Transparency can also help build trust between the project manager and stakeholders by providing accurate information about the project’s status. This is especially important when it comes to capital construction projects, where there is often a large amount of money at stake.

As more project leaders begin to use visual mapping in their projects, we’ll continue to learn about its usefulness and its applications. It represents an approach that focuses on putting more of the data where it belongs: in the hands of users. And there’s something to be said for making things as simple and straightforward as possible — especially when it comes to capital construction project data, which is often complex and extensive. Curious how data dashboards can help make sense of your project’s connected analytics? We’re happy to help arrange for a consultation at your convenience.


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