The eyes have it
by Carol Hildebrand | photo by Seth Affoumado
Alexis Gerard, President, Future Image, San Mateo, Calif., USA
a picture may be worth a thousand words, but until recently, most project managers have relied more on language to get their points across. That's changing, however, as high-quality digital media, such as digital cameras and cell phones, become cheaper and easier to use. Additionally, pipelines such as corporate networks and the Internet provide the backbone to easily convey those digital images.
“It's all about convergence of technology, ease of use, price point and integration,” says Alexis Gerard, president of research firm Future Image, San Mateo, Calif., USA. “You can now easily integrate a picture into just about any document or program or e-mail or post it to a Web site.”
This sea change offers a sterling opportunity for project managers to upgrade their communications—an area where many could use a little help, says Catherine Daw, PMP, president of SPM Group Ltd., a project management consultancy in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Project managers do need to improve their presentation skills,” she says. “Death by PowerPoint is not the route executives are interested in any more.”
We used to think of presentations as static things, but today, with digital cameras and camera phones, integrating images with text and other types of data becomes dynamic.
–Bob Goldstein, AVA Mobile
To gain management attention, project managers must find a way to convey information quickly and effectively. Digital imagery, used both in formal presentation as well as within the project management process itself, offers the ability to do both.
Sound and Vision
Using digital imagery within presentations isn't difficult, technology-wise. “Integrating images into PowerPoint is really easy,” Mr. Gerard says. “There's an insert command from the file and bingo, it's in there.”
The trick lies in knowing when and where to use images effectively. Humans are a visual species, and pictures can be one of the most effective ways of conveying data. “Digital imagery can [provide] an image that can have instant relevance to what you're saying, but how you use that visual image is equally important,” says Graham Fox, managing director and senior consultant at Black Isle Consultants. The presentation and media coaching consultancy is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Many project managers make the mistake of talking and presenting visual images simultaneously, which is distracting at best, he says. “If you are asking people to look at something on screen while talking to them, it affects both senses, degrading them both to about 20 percent of capacity.”
Instead, talk and then display the picture. “Digital imagery and video is great, but the speaker must lead the way,” says John Miers. Founder of Black Isle, he is located in the company's office in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Put up the image and be quiet. The longer you let them look, the more they'll draw in and remember.”
Digital imagery also can change the way presentations themselves are used by integrating them into the fabric of work. “We used to think of presentations as static things, but today, with digital cameras and camera phones, integrating images with text and other types of data becomes dynamic,” says Bob Goldstein, founder and president of AVA Mobile, a visual technology development company in San Francisco, Calif., USA. He co-authored Going Visual [John Wiley & Sons, 2005] with Mr. Gerard. “It's all about work groups and collaborations.”
Visually oriented companies can expect increases in productivity and effectiveness, according to Mr. Gerard.
“You don't need to spend the time and effort to describe things, because showing them works better,” he says. For example, Hyder & Co., a small property management company, used to send lengthy paper status reports to each of its property owners, who were scattered across the United States. “Now, they e-mail digital pictures, and the clients want more,” Mr. Goldstein says. “It's more efficient, easier to absorb, and the clients are more satisfied.”
Using digital images also allows companies to react more quickly and flexibly. Project managers on construction projects, for example, have traditionally relied on monthly print photos to show ongoing progress. Now, digital photos can be sent immediately, or a project team can access a live Web cam during a status meeting to get immediate visuals from the site.
“Digital images give very important real-time access,” Mr. Gerard says. “You can take a picture, e-mail it and post that to a live meeting. It can change the way people do business. Without that visual component, you would lose weeks in terms of managing those jobs and the interactions of various parts of the work group.”
PUSHING THROUGH A BILLBOARD from concept to production once took months for Clear Channel Outdoor. Now, thanks to the integration of digital imagery throughout its business processes, the Phoenix, Ariz., USA-based company can get one up in a matter of weeks, and sometimes within days.
With over 800,000 displays in more than 50 countries across six continents, Clear Channel has made it a mission to integrate digital imagery wherever possible. The result has been a business that's faster on its feet, says Russ Mason, the company's corporate director of digital services. “It's completely changed the way we do business,” he says. “It's not digital imaging any more, it's ‘digital enterprising,’” as AVA Mobile's Bob Goldstein dubbed in his book Going Visual.
Digital images come into play as early as the sales process, when sales teams can pull images of various sites into a template to create a customized pitch that shows exactly what's available in the markets the client is considering. “Say the customer wanted to put billboards in the top 10 cities in the United States, we can pull images of what's available in those cities and create a proposal that has photos, a map and bullet points for each location,” Mr. Mason says.
When it comes time to actually produce the billboards themselves, the digital images are sent electronically to giant printers that produce the image on wraparound vinyl.
Digital imagery also helps with repairs. If something is wrong with a billboard, an image can be sent to the appropriate department, so they know precisely what needs to be fixed. Instead of just hearing “there's graffiti,” for example, they can see specifically how the board has been damaged.
“There's a lot of time and effort saved, and the pictorial image has gone up dramatically,” he says. “Digital imagery has allowed us to make a huge technological leap into the future.”
Digital imaging also can help cut down on project miscommunications, especially when dealing across multinational companies and cultures. “A picture conveys the information with more integrity,” he says.
Show, Not Tell
Becoming an “image-active” project manager does require some forethought. Know how to get the images from the phone or camera to the computer. “This is not nearly as straightforward as it should be,” Mr. Gerard says. Some phones are Bluetooth-enabled, which lets them send photos wirelessly from a project site. Others ship with connecting cables and software, while some have removable memory chips that insert into a small card reader for downloading images to the computer. (Warning: Phone cards are not the same size as those in digital cameras, so you'll need a separate reader for them.)
Finally, understand when images will do a better job than words. “If you're trying to describe something physical, such as a person, place or thing, think about whether you'd be better off communicating this with an image,” Mr. Goldstein says. “Think ‘show,’ not ‘tell.’”
Document processes by using the video clip feature common to many digital cameras. “If you want to show how two parts fit together, shoot a five-second video of the process,” he says.
How those images are communicated depends on the circumstances. For example, e-mail is one option. Scattered teams often use photo-sharing services such as Shutter-fly to set up a repository of images.
The transition can take some time, as people adjust themselves to the instant availability of images—something that most adults are not used to. “Using images on an everyday basis is not a reflex, so you have to start training yourself,” Mr. Gerard says. PM
Carol Hildebrand is a freelance writer based in Wellesley, Mass., USA. A former senior editor at CIO magazine, she has had stories in Baseline, Darwin, Computerworld and Network World.
PM NETWORK | MAY 2006 | WWW.PMI.ORG
MAY 2006 | PM NETWORK