10 september 2020   97   8 min

Visual Thinking deep dive

In July, we had the pleasure of sharing part 1 of our interview with Deborah Ghisolfi, CEO of Agile Marketing Italia. In the first part of the interview Deborah explained what agile visualisation is and how agile organisations can benefit from a visual approach. As an agile professional passionate about both agility and visualisation, Deborah will conduct a course on Visual Thinking for agile marketeers during the upcoming eXperience Agile event (29-30 September). In part 2 of the interview, Deborah shares her vision on Visual Thinking, and explains how a visual approach supports her as a trainer.

During the eXperience Agile event in Lisbon you will be conducting a course on Visual Thinking for agile marketeers. What are in your opinion the core aspects of Visual Thinking?

"Visual Thinking is a technique that allows you to organise thoughts, ideas and concepts through images, supporting a learning process and problem solving process. In the course of time, images have become protagonists in the communication flow. In fact, with images we can:

  • Synthesise and clarify the contents to represent concepts, data, flows
  • Schematize complex strategies, to facilitate their learning and implementation
  • Provide an overview to guide us in our choices
  • Focus on the best solution to a problem
  • Explore a situation by analysing it in detail (convergence) and, at the same time, observing it from a higher level to capture its essence (divergence)

With Visual Thinking you can organise the steps to be taken before realising the final goal, and organise the outcomes. It is important that all team members are familiar with the desired outcomes. Otherwise milestones become not more than a date.

The possibility to monitor the whole process, and the transparency visualisation provides, leads to confidence within the team. And monitoring the process is important. Because when you start organising for example a marketing campaign in November, based on the definition of a certain buyer persona, that doesn’t mean the buyer persona is the same the next year, in May or June. That’s why visualising the process and reviewing this, is so important. So Visual Thinking can be used as a project management tool, but also to generate new ideas."

What are the key benefits of Visual Thinking?

"Do you agree when I say that summarising what has been discussed during a meeting is highly important? Key information should be highlighted and content should be organised in such a way that the attendees have a quick overview and can easily identify detailed information. However, what often happens, is that for example a marketing strategy is explained by many PowerPoint slides and Excel sheets. To be honest, I ask myself how participants can select the information required to make decisions in a setting like this. How can they prioritise and identify the measurements required to find out where they are heading to? And this is where Visual Thinking comes in. Different visualisation techniques, like a design thinking canvas, visual synthesis in sketchnote or structures organised in mental maps, allow to represent ideas, concepts, projects, workflows in order to support and define for example the marketing strategy.

Using Visual Thinking techniques you can:

  • Increase efficiency and team involvement
  • Update all participants in a project on progress, priorities, ongoing activities, division of tasks and final objectives
  • Give greater clarification about objectives to be achieved by creating a global vision that often goes beyond corporate functions and organisation

Making decisions becomes faster and more transparent if all information is organised, displayed and visible to everyone. Companies can manage complex projects without losing sight of the final objective and the progress. In every meeting, whether informative, decision-making, creative or coordinating, when using Visual Thinking the meeting becomes more engaging, participatory and effective.

Visual summaries help you to present a project or an idea and allow you to clarify things and share information horizontally. When brainstorming sessions are guided through Visual Thinking, when the outcome is visualised and organised in mind maps, then it becomes easier to transform ideas into projects in a next phase. So Visual Thinking helps you to present, visualise, explain, stimulate creativity or make decisions more effectively, both at an individual or group level."

If we look at your Visual Thinking courses for agile marketeers, what is the most important learning experience you want your participants to provide with?

"The most important lesson is that nothing is static in an agile environment. If your plans don’t fit with the customer’s needs and the desired outcomes, then you have to change them. And you have to keep in mind that something can potentially change every day. Especially in this COVID-19 crisis, in which we are experiencing real challenging VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity & Ambiguity) times, we have to move parts of our activities like they were pieces of a puzzle and sometimes we just have to throw away certain pieces. 

Visualise the challenges, opportunities, threats, uncertainties. And if these data sets show that certain aspects have changed, don’t be afraid to change your plans. Change your plans potentially every day, but use visual tools that can help you understand why your plans have to be changed. If you know why you change, you can create a mechanism in your mind, a mindset that embraces change every day without fear. Eventually taking small, good decisions every day is better than implementing a big transformation after 3 months."

How can visual communication support you as a trainer in your offline or online courses?

"Visual communication can help me to focus, to remain on path, to focus on the learning outcomes, to understand how to explore the participants concerns or challenges. So whether I work in an offline or online session, visual communication helps me in two ways.  First of all it helps me to focus on the learning outcomes and secondly it helps me to focus on the challenges and the strengths of my participants. I love visualising the learning outcomes during a training session, for example by using sketchnoting techniques. This provides a recap of what we have been doing during the session. And when I invite people to give their feedback by using visual communication tools, like electrostatic notes, and I see people doubt whether they shall put a note with feedback on a board or not or whether they have written the ‘right’ feedback on the note, than I know as a trainer I have to anticipate on this and maybe clarify things further."

What kind of different tools are you using to visualise, and that can be in your training courses, or maybe in other daily practices? What would be the top 3 of most essential tools?

"When I look at my training practices, than I love flexible visual communication materials, like electrostatic writing surfaces, that can be provided with a canvas, such as the lean canvas, buyer persona canvas or an empathy map.

But a ‘wall of feedback’ or ‘retrospective wall’ would also be in my top 3. As a wall of feedback, I prefer a large writing wall, on which meeting participants can share their feedback after a meeting. Team members can be invited to express how satisfied they were during a particular session or meeting, or what their thoughts are on a particular topic or project. Then they can be asked to write down their feedback on a electrostatic note and stick the note on the feedback wall. When you start an agile transition, sharing feedback is very important. I consider feedback a gift to others, because you care about them. And when team members give each other feedback, they listen better to each other."

In case participants are not actively participating in your courses, can visual communication tools help you to have them more involved?

"Yes, absolutely! In a training course there are introverted and extroverted people. Visual communication can help introvert people getting more involved. Dot voting for example can be used as a tool to prioritize items or to make decisions regarding next steps to be taken in a project. In case silent dot voting is applied, it is easier for participants, even for introvert participants, to share their feedback. ‘Silent brainstorming’ can also help when people don’t feel comfortable enough to actively participate during a session. In a silent brainstorming session, the key question or problem statement is shared on paper on a central place. In a next step, we have 30 minutes of silence, and every participant is invited to express his or her thoughts in relation to the key theme, in words or images. Then I collect all the feedback from the participants, and create one big picture out of it, on the wall or on a board. With this silent brainstorming method, even the most shy persons may come up with the greatest ideas.

Next to this,  when I use analogue visual communication tools during a course, participants are more active. I prefer using markers and a writing surface during a course, because it’s more dynamic. When you are conducting a remote session, using a digital board, the energy is completely different. There are digital tools that can be applied in a remote session, drawing tools, tools creating canvases, digital boards, but there is a great emotional difference between moving tiles physically and virtually."

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