The word “data” can sometimes seem complex and intimidating — almost as if there should be numbers scrolling in front of you like the Matrix. When you’re swimming in data,  taking it all in can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, data visualization software can help you present that information in a way that’s way more digestible and actionable. 

As Merriam-Webster explains, the truth about data is that it isn’t quite so complicated. When you boil it down, data is factual information. That means that you deal with a lot of data for every single project you and your team tackle. 

The Project Management Institute (PMI) describes project management as a “data rich” activity, and project data points include everything from task lists and calendars to performance metrics and expenses. 

Here’s how you can use data visualization software to find trends, analyze information, and make data-driven project decisions.

What is data visualization?

Data visualization is the process of presenting data visually. Ideally, data visualization tools will allow you to share information using graphs, charts, infographics, and more. Pretty straightforward, right? 

So, for example, rather than spelling out your project timeline by listing the dates in a document or spreadsheet, you could use a Gantt chart to provide a visual representation of your project life cycle and milestone dates. That’s data visualization.

As more and more companies prioritize making data-driven decisions, data visualization has become more and more popular. Scientific American even went so far as to call it a “data visualization revolution.” 

Why use data visualization in project management?

Like we mentioned earlier, data visualization isn’t reserved for people who work with digits. It’s gone mainstream, and is a suitable tool for anybody who works with a lot of information — including project managers. 

What role does data visualization play in project management? It can help with the following:

  • Tracking project status: When you need to figure out where a project currently stands, it can often feel like you need to look in four different places and have several different conversations. However, data visualization will give you a centralized and immediate glance at your project progress. A burndown chart is great for this, as it shows how many project tasks are left to finish during a selected time period. 
  • Clarifying key players and responsibilities: Half of employees admit that they don’t actually know what’s expected of them at work. Data visualization tools and graph formats will not only display the project tasks, but also who is responsible for each of them. 
  • Managing resources and bandwidth: A utilization and performance report is a form of data visualization that shows you things like the total capacity of a team member for a selected period of time, as well as which categories of work take up most of their time. It’s an easy way to see which of your team members have bandwidth for new tasks and which ones might be spread too thin. 
  • Improving communication and collaboration: We all know how important these aspects of teamwork are, but unfortunately, they don’t come naturally to most of us. In fact, a whopping 68% of people who have worked on teams say they’ve been part of a dysfunctional group. Data visualization allows project team members to get important information in a really accessible way. That empowers them to communicate and collaborate more efficiently and more effectively. 

What is big data in project management?

There’s another term you’ll hear tossed around frequently: big data. But, before you can understand how big data fits into project management, you first need a good grasp on what big data is. 

As it turns out, the name “big data” is pretty descriptive. According to the SAS Institute, big data is “data that is so large, fast, or complex that it’s difficult or impossible to process using traditional methods.”

You might not have data sets that are quite that complex for your projects, but it’s important to remember that your projects don’t happen in isolation — they’re a piece of broader business decisions, objectives, and more.

“Projects live and breathe within a context, be it business or non-business, therefore as part of the context a large amount of data about projects and management of projects is being collected on an ongoing basis too,” says the International Project Management Association (IPMA).

So, big data does indeed play a role in project management. As the IPMA continues, it can be used to:

  • Create new processes to improve planning, control, and delivery of projects
  • Shape the future of the overall project ecosystem

Now that you understand how data visualization and big data influence your actual projects, let’s look into how you can use data visualization to improve your interactions with your clients. 

How does the visual presentation of data matter to clients?

If you work in professional services or another type of client-facing capacity, data visualization isn’t just helpful for your internal team. It can also be a great asset for your external clients by doing the following:

  • Simplifying complex subjects: Research from PMI found that high-performing organizations excel in many different aspects of project communications, including providing clarity and detail and using non-technical language. Data visualization makes this easier, as information is presented to clients in a way that’s far more manageable. 
  • Highlighting trends: There are plenty of claims that the human brain processes visual information better than text. And, while there aren’t a ton of independent studies to back that up, it is a lot easier to spot trends when information is presented visually. So, using data visualization in your client reports will enable them to see common themes — such as the successes of the projects you’re completing. 
  • Giving fast answers: If you needed to find an answer, would you rather comb through rows and rows of a spreadsheet or take a look at a graph? The graph, right? That’s another benefit of data visualization for your clients. When done well, these representations make it easy to get a fact or answer quickly. 

What should you search for when looking for data visualization software?

Data visualization is helpful for your project team and your clients. But, you don’t want it to be something that’s cumbersome or complicated for you to use. 

Fortunately, the right data visualization software can help you present all of your project information in an accessible way, without wasting time or tearing your hair out.

What should you look for when evaluating the different data visualization tools out there? Here are a few things that should be on your must-have list: 

  • Integrations with your project management software: Your data visualization software should be able to pull information directly out of your project management tool, otherwise you’re dealing with a maintenance headache and a lot of additional, manual work.
  • Advanced filtering and formulas: Data visualization isn’t helpful if it displays a bunch of information you don’t need. Look for a tool that has plenty of filter options, so you can drill down to the data you really want.
  • Customizable views: You need different ways to display different data. Your tool should have plenty of customizable views and chart options, so you can choose the best, most helpful way to present your information.
  • Report templates: Maybe you’re new to data visualization and aren’t sure where to start. It’s helpful if your software has prebuilt templates that you can tweak and tailor. Then you don’t need to start from scratch. 

Additionally, it’s worth considering what other team-specific features your team might need — such as restricted access roles or automations. That will help you find the tool that supports your team best, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

Why is Wrike the perfect data visualization software for project management? 

Here’s the short answer: Because it has all of the above features and more. With the Wrike Analyze add-on, you can:

  • Use customizable views of your data (with tons of different types of analytics widgets)
  • Start with prebuilt report templates
  • Create customizable and interactive analytics dashboards and share them across your team
  • Access advanced filtering and formulas

Plus, it’s fully integrated into Wrike — meaning all of your important project information is already there, without any importing, updates, or elbow grease from you. 

Ready to harness the power of data visualization in a way that’s intuitive and impactful? Start your free trial of Wrike today.