I think we’ve all been in meetings where somebody had to stop and draw a picture or diagram to explain something—whether they used a whiteboard, a legal pad or even a napkin to illustrate their point. And in many cases, that illustration prompted an “Aha” moment that words alone failed to create.
That’s why I was interested to see a new report from IDC Manufacturing Insights explaining the merits of using visually presented information. Research in the report, titled Methods and Practices: Visual Information for Effective Collaboration in Product Life-Cycle Management, shows (pun was intended) that organizations can improve and extend their decision-making abilities by using more product-related information presented visually.
Visualization is an effective method to synthesize different data sources and make them accessible to broader communities of decision makers for cross-disciplinary decisions--and even more so when experience, skills, culture or language differences may impede the decision-making process, says Joe Barkai, practice director of the Product Life-Cycle Strategies service at IDC Manufacturing Insights. Product-related information, presented in a rich visual context and shared across widely accessible and easily usable collaborative interfaces, can contribute to making more effective product-related decisions that can positively impact the complete product life-cycle--from concept to decommission, he says.
Central to the study is the realization that designers and manufacturers of complex products find it increasingly difficult to make effective product-related decisions. Growing technical complexity across engineering disciplines, elongated and dynamic supply chains, an increasing shortage of experienced workers, fast-paced schedules and budgetary restrictions all contribute to create an environment that challenges traditional decision-making methodologies, means and tools, Barkai says. However, manufacturers find that presenting complex, multidisciplinary information using visual methods helps level the playing field for decision makers of varying skills and across corporate disciplines, which, as would be expected, results in better and quicker decisions.
What’s interesting here is that use of visual information can add significant value to the decision-making process because it enables connecting knowledge workers and various corporate disciplines. In the past, these groups lacked a common platform for interaction. But by creating an environment that makes use of visual information, the organization will promote both better comprehension and effective participation from various stakeholders. The result will be an expanded decision-making population that includes groups once left out of product decisions so they can offer additional input.
The report goes on to caution that visual decision making is not an isolated activity. Instead, it should be augmented by the use of collaborative activities and use of decision-support tools such as social networking and business analytic tools, and that it should leverage organizational knowledge and best practices as well.
Whether it’s an internal design team working with accounting or purchasing, design engineers working with manufacturing engineers, or company representatives working with a contract manufacturer to determine if they can build the product as-designed, it’s easy to see how the use of visual information can streamline and even improve the decision-making process. Have you already adopted—or are you adopting—this practice?