Project Visibility: 35 Tips to See More of What's Happening in Your Work and Work Better

November 30, 2016 Marcus Varner

You can't fight what you can't see. Or improve it.

We all get this. So why then do so many work teams seem to struggle with the concept of visibility? 

When it comes to building our careers and playing office politics, we all have no problem making the fruits of our labors known to everyone. But when it comes to answering basic questions like "Who's working on this?" or "What's holding up this project?" we are content with non-answers. Or we think a weekly status email can pass for actual visibility.

In a recent post here on the Talking Work Blog, PMO expert Barry Hodge said:

"[J]ust providing the same project report week in and week out is not going to work when all you are doing is moving out the dates. Unless your project is going well, all that will happen is you will lose credibility as your project stakeholders become more frustrated.  To be successful, you have to provide visibility into what is being done day to day as well as how this fits into the big picture."

Providing stakeholder and collaborator visibility into work and project progress is one of the most crucial things you can do as you manage your work and the work of your teams. It adds an element of accountability, enables effective delegation, and is critical for empowering your team to operate more nimbly and with greater responsiveness. But pulling this off means doing things differently.

Here we provide 35 tips and ideas for better visibility and transparency at work will help keep stakeholders informed and the rest of the team humming along happily.

1. Build a communication plan 

Set expectations for needed updates, what they will contain, and who will be overseeing and doing each part of the work. If these are repeatable for future projects, create a template to follow each time. Doing this will increase the amount of visibility everyone has into the work from the beginning. It can also reduce email chains, deleted voicemails, and drive-by cubicle conversations during projects that often happen when no one can see what’s going on.

Myles Miller at Lead Up recommends:

“Put a communication plan in place and measure its effectiveness periodically throughout the project.”

2. Communicate more than you think you should

With so many distractions, it’s natural for people to filter things out. Often we need to hear something several times before we start to process it. Elizabeth Harrin, author of the Girls Guide to PM, says it helps to have the same message in a variety of formats delivered by different people. It's a massive help to have people in senior positions, like a boss or project sponsor, reinforce your message.

Real visibility means that, even though you think you've told your stakeholders about the project, they probably don't retain as much about it because they don't ‘live' in it the same way that you do. Make sure your project communication includes enough time to repeat your message with a firm but patient frequency.

3. Track your work in one place

The way your team manages and monitors their work should be consistent every time. Using a tool to track the work gives visibility into the status of tasks, helps remove roadblocks, and updates you on deadlines are in danger. When everyone uses different tools and document management systems, visibility is hard to come by.

4. Be extra transparent

William Bauer, Managing Director at Royce Leather, says an exceptional project manager  maximizes transparency and doesn't use information as a means of control:

“They communicate clearly, completely, and concisely, all the while giving others real information without fear of what they'll do with it.”

5. Establish good working relationships with stakeholders

Seasoned Agile coach Greg Smith says that understanding how to navigate the communication protocols and to develop them early on keeps people informed, but ultimately, creating and maintaining relationships are what lead to the most comprehensive understanding and buy-in on teams.

6. Give access to online tools that allow collaboration and sharing

ProofHQ, for example, is a quick and efficient way to manage content review and approvals. Instead of emailing attachments and revisions back and forth between clients, creative teams, and account executives, your entire team stays up to date with this online proofing tool.

Dropbox allows you to keep the files safe between you and a client. “These files can be accessed anywhere versus just on the network in your office, will always be synchronized," says Tara Mulhern at Webtek, "and you can easily share documents, photos, and videos.”

7. Communicate but not through email threads

Often people don’t even read what you write, so email updates to the team are a poor excuse for keeping things transparent. Find a tool like Workfront that captures all communication in one spot, allows you to communicate around specific projects, and keeps all vital assets within the same communication stream. Rather than archiving emails you'll never see again, use a tool that helps you to centralize, streamline, and show your progress.

8. Avoid using email as an approval tool

We often pick on email as a work chaos culprit. But it has earned its scorn. While email has solved some of the visibility problems we suffered from by using faxes and memos in the past, it can still be problematic.

When used to circulate documents or design proofs to multiple stakeholders for approval and comments, it creates a major visibility problem and inefficiencies of vast proportions. Each recipient can’t simultaneously view the comments others have made, so they are likely duplicating efforts or contradicting other suggestions. Finally, the person who sent the email has to manually aggregate all of the feedback, slowing the progress of the entire workflow.

9. Avoid paper planners

Business Insider reported on a resurgence in paper planners, noting that planner decorating videos on YouTube can garner 10,000 to 100,000 views. But paper planners can’t sync with your desktop or your mobile device. And if your planner gets lost or stolen, there’s no available backup.

10. Use collaborative tools for document reviews

Microsoft Word is fine if you are asking just one person to review your document using the “track changes” feature. You can see every suggestion and correction, and accept or reject them one by one.

With Google Docs collaborative editing and other similar platforms, your document is hosted online, allowing multiple reviewers to edit it at the same time and leave feedback that everyone can see and comment upon. Major visibility upgrade.

11. No more instant messenger for critical project questions

Want to trash your visibility quick? Use instant messenger between you and one other person for relevant project information. Sure, Google chat, Slack, HipChat, and other instant messaging services are a great tool for quick questions. But even if the conversations are archived, they’re not organized by work project or topic. They’re hidden inside a chronological stream of all your other IM activity.

For specific project visibility, use the commenting and updating features inside your work management solution. This way, all questions about a project are collected alongside the other details about that job, providing a record for anyone who has a stake in the project, now or in the future.

12. Forget whiteboards for tracking work progress

While whiteboards work great for some teams, there’s always one big drawback: they’re only visible to teams when they are in the office. We’re talking about visibility here. And executives and other stakeholders remain in the dark with this method unless by some off chance they wander into the team’s workspace. With 52% of workers believing that most people will be remote in just a few years, it’s important to make the electronic transition now.

So look for a solution that supports Agile where you can use a board in the application to track the team’s work. If you like the physical display aspect of the old whiteboard, install a large monitor that displays your new e-board in a public area.

13. Don’t use email threads for meeting scheduling

Oh, email. Why can’t we quit you? The problem with scheduling meetings through a thread is that some will hit “reply” and others will hit “reply all,” leaving you with several email threads to sort through.

For better results, make sure all key players in your company, as well as contractors, use a shared calendaring system, like Google calendar. Once you get the system set up with the right access and visibility, scheduling a meeting is as easy as clicking the “find a time” button. All open appointment times for all invitees display instantly for the time range you select.

14. Try a DAM solution for managing digital assets

If you have all of your digital assets stored in a series of folders on a company network, your files may be accessible, but they’re not visible. Believe it or not, 48% of creative teams are not using any form of digital asset management solution. As for the remaining 52%, many are using old solutions that are installed on-premises, lacking the power and flexibility that cloud-based solutions provide.

With a digital asset management (DAM) solution, you can view and find files fast, convert and share files without leaving the interface, and ensure the right files are used correctly by managing access and permissions. Robust metadata, filters, and searchable keywords make it even easier for anyone to zero in on the file they need, without having to through a human gatekeeper.

Writing specifically about DAM, Workfront CMO Joe Staples recently said:

“Your DAM solution should support integration with other IT systems, eCommerce systems, content management systems, websites, intranet sites, project management solutions, and design software like Adobe InDesign and Photoshop. And don’t forget Single Sign-On, which conveniently allows employees to use their existing credentials to access the system.”

But the same holds true for any cloud-based solution. Workfront, for example, integrates seamlessly with Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Manager, ProofHQ, Workfront DAM, Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft Word, Box, SharePoint, ExactTarget, Salesforce, Jira and more.
 

15. Avoid locally installed design software 

The problem with local instances of design software is the closed-off nature of the tool. Local software means local files, and that means you’re in for an approval nightmare when you’re work is ready for review. Adobe’s Creative Cloud SaaS model and monthly fee structure got a few audible groans in 2013. But 8 million subscribers can’t all be wrong. One of Creative Cloud’s clear advantages is improved visibility and compliance, a big deal for IT professionals. According to Softchoice Advisor:

“With Creative Cloud you know exactly how many Adobe licenses you have deployed in your environment, and who has them. You can also see the cloud storage use for each user, to confirm whether they are using the software—allowing you to scale back on unused licenses. More importantly, because Creative Cloud is subscription-based, there’s less chance of deploying licenses beyond your Adobe agreement and finding yourself unexpectedly out of compliance.”

16. Pace yourself with meetings

More meetings means more visibility, right? Not really. Most of what is done in a meeting can be done with the right tool and can reach more people, without wasting a lot of people's time. Constant meetings to get everyone on the same page and updated keep workers from being productive and creative. The estimated monthly cost of this is $52,500 for enterprise teams. The time wasted by frequent status meetings and trying to stay connected limits the number of projects completed per quarter or year, therefore limiting ROI.
 

17. Automate your reporting processes as much as possible

Even a team firmly committed to the principle of visibility needs an easy, intuitive,  automatic way to report and track their work. Otherwise, transparency will suffer. Here are some clues that you’re relying too much on manual reporting:

You hold frequent status meetings

You send an email to notify someone of completed tasks

You stop by cubicles to ask whether projects are on track

You have a complex spreadsheet with project details, like budget and delivery dates

You have employees tracking time by hand

As it is, enterprise workers are devoting just 39% of their time to their primary job duties. Take away the manual tracking and reporting, and you may see that number tick up a few percentage points.

18. Make use of software integrations

Depending on the size of your team and company, you may have multiple cloud-based software solutions that perform overlapping functions. These software silos can be a significant barrier to visibility. Often when a shiny new project management solution and other software gets implemented, it isn’t fully integrated with existing systems. New solutions just get added to all the old systems and old systems aren’t retired.

If this is your reality, you could be missing out on better visibility. Workfront, for example, integrates seamlessly with email, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, SharePoint, Salesforce, Adobe Creative Cloud, and many other essential business tools.

19. Streamline your workflows

A big part of visibility is bringing your workflows into uniformity with other teams you work with. When different business units follow entirely different workflows, company-wide visibility inevitably suffers. Middle managers can do little about improving workflows in their corner of the company in a way that could inspire other teams to follow suit.

Emerson director of software engineering Bob Moore has overcome this problem by working directly with other teams to bring their workflows in sync. And the results have been huge:

“The planning phase of projects has been shortened dramatically because the project templates and workflows walk teams right through what needs to be done and initiate the sort of momentum that’s necessary to get a project off the ground in a positive way.”

20. Offer real-time visibility on the status of deliverables

Giving stakeholders the means to see what is happening with specific, requested goods/services/products on their project will go far in maintaining visibility and keeping on schedule. Giving them visibility into the status of each deliverable and a clear overview of how the business will profit or benefit, will build the relationship and help establish future positive patterns of communication.
 

21. Show a real-time picture of progress 

This is essential for ensuring the smooth delivery of any work. Most work management software worth its salt will allow you to give stakeholders a permanent link they can use to check in on the progress of work at any time. They will see your full team’s work, ensuring they have a clear, consistent, real-time view of project progress and status.
 

22. Improve your reporting and analytics

Far too often workers struggle to produce reports and end up using Excel, which is no problem for power users. But for the rest of us, it’s beneficial to have software that, when set up correctly, can offer sharable dashboards for reporting to managers on project costs, progress, status and profitability, and resource utilization and productivity.
 

23. Check in with your project customers often

Brad Egeland of PMTimes says that one project status calls each week could be fine for small projects, “But for larger and high visibility projects or projects experiencing ongoing issues those touch points need to happen more often and I suggest 3-4 times per week for that.”

24. Add financials to the project status report

For executives and PMs, the project budget is the Sword of Damocles. Keeping the budget updated and front and center is critical to communication and the success of your work. “This only serves to elevate it to a new level of visibility, oversight, and accountability,” says Egeland.

25. Make sure your team understands their role and expectations

When each member of your team has clear, consistent communication about their responsibility within a project, they become a more effective, efficient employee. A 2011 study by Pence & Wright shows that when a project provides clear communication and visibility, common errors that cost time and money decrease by 34%.

26. Share snapshots of dashboards

Dashboards are meant to be shared, especially with your managers, stakeholders, and executives, who might be too busy to dig into a spreadsheet. Use them and make sure they give stakeholders and executives only the most important nuggets they need to feel involved in and secure about your projects. This, for example, is what Workfront's iPad dashboard looks like:

27. Give updates into deliverables and resource allocations

To oversimplify a little, to deliver work efficiently you need to know who is doing what and when it’s due. Ian Needs at KeyedIn Projects writes, “Having visibility into the status of key project deliverables and the status of your resource demand is essential for ensuring ... they are being delivered on time and to budget.”

28. Define your project needs up front

In addition to the communication plan, a solid project scope will help you avoid the “I didn’t realize that was in there” syndrome that happens with poor planning. “By first understanding the parameters of both your objectives and assets, and by then delegating their oversight to team members who can initiate prompt action, key resources are most effectively deployed.”

29. Know what your team can do

How well do you know your team? Who is the Organizer? The Doer? The Think-Outside-the-Boxer? Knowing they excel at during times of calm and stress allows you to plan accordingly and helps during scope and communication plan development. This plays into the timeline and sets realistic expectations from the beginning as well.

30. Have (or give) access to old projects

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” said George Santayana. Having access to similar project documentation will help you learn from both the good and the bad of completed projects. Your work management tool should allow you to research this easily and is a key part of nurturing company visibility.

31. Know and share capacity and workloads

Do you really have the team bandwidth to deliver on your project responsibilities? When the other teams say “no problem” does their workload support it? Transparency about capacity helps everyone in the long run and allows the critical ability to shift resources before it becomes a problem. Of course, you need the right system in place in order to track and visualize this kind of information. This, for example, is how Workfront makes resource allocation more visible:

32. Be more transparent within the communication flow

It’s not enough to have a communication plan if everyone retires to their corners and doesn’t surface until there’s a problem. Don’t be afraid to check in with your communication plan often so you can make the needed adjustments if some part of it isn’t working as planned.

33. Try a third-party consultant

Work politics and policies can derail transparency efforts. A specialist can help. PMAlliance writes that an external consultant can navigate political waters at the office, whip an in-trouble project into shape, and help reduce the number of times influential individuals request changes that aren’t supported by the project’s scope or budget.

34. Be consistent

Building trust with stakeholders and others is difficult if your team isn’t consistent in its communication about their part of the work. The Duration-Driven Blog says most communication mishaps happen innocently enough, but the damage it’s likely to inflict on the group will be difficult to repair.

35. Regularly provide the best data

Yes, include the metrics stakeholders request. But if there are little-known metrics that would help stakeholders, include them too. The PMAlliance blog says:

”Include any additional information that will help them understand the data points you’re sharing with them .. things like staffing levels, the number of active projects, budget overages, and new vendor agreement metrics are often helpful on a quarterly or even monthly basis.”

By following these tips and providing stakeholder and collaborator visibility, managing work and teams becomes a much easier and protects internal relationships tested during inevitable stress during important jobs and projects.

About the Author

Marcus Varner

Marcus is a content strategist and producer who loves helping brands craft content that improves customers' lives, builds brand credibility, and demands to be shared. For the last 10 years, Marcus has worked in every type of content—from writing to video production to design—and is currently a senior content marketing manager at Workfront, where he oversees all corporate- and awareness-level level content. When he's not producing content, he's consuming it, in the form of books, movies, and podcasts.

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