Visualizing Work: New Ways to MapHow Businesses OperateStowe BoydFebruary 10, 2015This report is underwritten by Smartsheet.

TABLE OF CONTENTSExecutive Summary . 3Introduction . 4Strategic Insight through Abstraction . 5Project Management Visualization . 6The Percentage of Jobs That Are Non-routine Is Rising . 8Business Process Visualizations . 8Business Intelligence Visualizations . 11Strategic Insight through the Work Graph . 14Conclusions and Takeaways . 20About Stowe Boyd . 21About Gigaom Research . 21The Visualization of Work2

Executive SummaryMost of the myriad approaches that visually represent what goes on in a business—such as organizationcharts and Gantt charts for project management—date from the start of the twentieth century. Theseoutdated visualizations simply don’t match up with the way today’s businesses operate: they fail toprovide strategic and quick insight into what people are doing. The rise of more recent businessintelligence (BI) and business process for visualizing work still fail to provide much insight into the socialdimension of work: where people are communicating, interacting, and sharing. The greatest degree ofinsight into today’s business is likely to come from tools that build on visualizing work based on the socialnetworks within and across businesses.Key takeaways from this report, which takes a close look at many of the approaches to visualize work, are: The older the technique for visualizing work, the more out of step it is with modern work. In an accelerating and big data world, techniques that rely on dynamically tapping into live datarather than manual updating have great advantages. The work graph—the social network of people in a business, plus the information objects that theyshare in the performance of their work—will likely be the central motif for visualizing work in theyears to come and is where the most exciting research and development is taking place today.The Visualization of Work3

IntroductionIn an increasingly sped-up and complex world, understanding truly understanding business operationscan be difficult, if not impossible. The blizzard of emails, reports, and slide presentations creates a fogthat blocks understanding rather than facilitates it. Conventional abstractions such as organization charts,business process diagrams, or Gantt timelines are often out-of-date or so removed from actual activitiesthat the individual, the workforce, or management involved have difficulty knowing who is involved withwhat projects, has access to what data, or is working with whom.Other data- and interaction-driven approaches to visualizing what’s going on in business might offer amore dynamic and direct way to gain strategic insight into what’s going on across the business. Thequestion is, in a world in which the nature of work is changing, what is the most useful way to visualizework so that all involved—the individual, the workforce as a whole, and management—can gain strategicinsight?This report explores various approaches used to visualize work, particularly those building on the workgraph model: business social networks and the artifacts that people use to get work accomplished, such asdocuments, designs, code, chats, and tasks.The Visualization of Work4

Strategic Insight through AbstractionWhen asked to characterize their company in a diagram, most people will fall back on the organization(org) chart—or some part of one—to show their place in the overall scheme. But org charts are notoriousfor concealing as much as they show. As Geary Rummler once observed, the real work is done in the whitespace of the org chart. That white space, Mark C. Maletz and Nitin Nohria once wrote, is “the large butmostly unoccupied territory in every company where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets arenonexistent, and strategy is unclear—and where, as a consequence, entrepreneurial activity that helpsreinvent and renew an organization takes place.”So the org chart is the first visualization that we can rule out for gaining any real insight into theoperations of business in 2015. This is not because we’ve seen a millennial deconstruction of thehierarchy—we haven’t—but because businesses involve much more than the direct reporting structurethat the org chart reflects.1917 Org Chart of the Tabulating Machine Co., later Known as IBMSource: WikipediaThe Visualization of Work5

However, understanding how work is done in a business is necessary for strategic insight, formanagement, the workforce, and the individual. So we must examine other models that businesses use:business process models and workflows, social networks and work graphs, project status and taskmanagement, and financial models. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.One dimension of major importance is whether the abstraction is a static mapping or a dynamicrepresentation of live data being pulled from a system in use. Those that are static, or proscriptive, suchas the traditional top-down project management tools like Microsoft Project are always out of date andrequire laborious tweaking. And even when they are up to date, they fail to show the rich socialinteractions that make work human.Clearly, we are better off visualizing work with dynamic tools driven by real-world data, but even withthat baseline, there are still many potential ways to visualize work.Project Management VisualizationDozens of project management approaches visualize work. One well-known staple of project planningand management is the Gantt chart, named for Henry Gantt, who designed his chart between 1910 and1915. Like the org chart, this technique is approximately one hundred years old, which may explain whythese techniques, while well understood, are increasingly out of step with the way most work is performedtoday.The Gantt chart’s basic premise is representing project activities as tasks that are assigned to workers.Dependencies between tasks—task 1 must be complete before task 3 can start, while task 2 can start atany time, for example—are constraints added to determine work sequencing, along with estimates of timeneeded, and once the project has started, capturing actual time applied. Dependencies also lead to projectanalyses, like the critical path shown in red in the figure below. The critical path comprises the tasks thatdefine the duration of the project. The grey bars in this chart are slack time: the amount of extra timeassociated with non-critical path activities.The Visualization of Work6

Gantt Chart from Microsoft ProjectSource: WikipediaGantt charts and other project management tools are largely proscriptive, and in general, require manualupdating, although more comprehensive and expensive project management solutions tie into largeenterprise work reporting solutions, so that as employees and managers enter data in timecards (or theirequivalents, online), the actual time can automatically update charts. These tools require training andtechnical knowledge to be used effectively. Another approach is burndown analysis which displays thetasks in a project as a declining graph showing completed and remaining tasks.Burndown ChartSource: WikipediaThe Visualization of Work7

One of the factors making project management approaches to visualizing work less effective today is thechanging nature of many people’s work. Much of today’s work is improvised and doesn’t follow step-bystep from a plan created at the outset, and the rate at which work plans are altered is increasing. Likewise,as work is increasingly decentralized, changes in one part of a project may happen without othersknowing.Researchers from the New York Federal Reserve analyzed census data to find a key trend: more U.S.occupations are involved in non-routine and cognitive work, currently approaching 70 percent of all jobs(see Work is rapidly becoming nonroutine). As a result, much of what people are doing is not projectrelated, or else the work activities are proceeding in a fashion where the work starts before all the tasksare identified and scoped.The Percentage of Jobs That Are Non-routine Is RisingThe strengths of project management-oriented visualization approaches are that project managementtechniques are well understood, and that tools for working with project management techniques aremature, so they can scale and provide roll-up for sub-projects. In this way, they provide a comprehensiveapproach to thinking about project work, especially in large projects involving complex coordination ofmany individuals or groups.But the weaknesses of project approaches are many. They downplay the human dimension of work, toooften treating workers like gears in a machine, and at any given time the most relevant information maynot easy to find. They miss what’s going on in the whitespace.Business Process VisualizationsWhile efforts to model business process, like Gantt and flow charts, have been around since the start ofthe 20th century, the term business process modeling has been in use only since the 1970s. It arose in thefield of systems engineering, attributed to S. Williams, Business Process Modeling ImprovesAdministrative Control (1967).Most process-oriented techniques in wide use today share a task-oriented orientation with Gantt andproject management approaches, but they add more attributes in the visualization of work. The nextfigure shows a process model with “swimlanes” that denote what agent or group is responsible for thetasks that are drawn within them. Two consultants, Geary Rummler and Alan Brache, proposedswimlanes in their book Improving Processes (1990).The Visualization of Work8

Swimlane Process ModelSource: WikipediaSwimlanes have been adopted in more modern and sophisticated techniques, like Unified ModelingLanguage (UML) Activity Diagrams. But in all cases, they focus on who has the responsibility for the task,the logic that drives alternate paths, as well as the sequence of the steps. It is a much richer visualizationof what is going on in well-defined business processes and it counters the lack of the human dimension tosome extent, since human agents are depicted explicitly. However, in any but the most deterministicbusiness activities, there is clearly a great deal of human communication not surfaced in this diagram. Forexample, it might be reasonable for the lawyer and agent in the chart above to communicate about theapproval of the order, but that isn’t evident.The Visualization of Work9

And the other weaknesses of project techniques remain: these representations are manual and requireupdating when changes are made. The more sophisticated methods, such as UML and Systems Dynamicsmodels, require formal training and an inclination toward logical rather that social thinking. Following isthe depiction of a brainstorming process in a UML Activity diagram (this one without swimlanes). Notediamonds indicate decisions, rounded rectangles are actions, and black bars enclose concurrent activities.Seems intuitive for programmers, perhaps, which is what UML is for.UML Activity DiagramSource: WikipediaSystems Dynamics models, that Jay Forrester invented in the 1950s, are based around different concepts:feedback loops and stocks and flows. The following stock and flow diagram models the New ProductAdoption system for a company making a product. Here we see the ‘stock’ of potential adopters beingThe Visualization of Work10

transferred to the ‘stock’ of adopters, which is what we generally call adoption. The blue feedback loopsshow the impact of forces, like word of mouth. Here word of mouth is clockwise relative to the flow,meaning it helps convert adopters. Likewise, the plus and minus signs indicate positive or negativefeedback.Systems Dynamics Model of New Product AdoptionSource: WikipediaThis is another example of an approach that requires technical knowledge to make sense of, and evenmore to construct such models. Like the other techniques covered so far, these fail the abstraction test:the user must read all the parts and construct a mental model of what’s going on in totality before havinga general sense of the process. There is deep insight, but no quick insight.Business Intelligence VisualizationsBI is a set of practices and technologies that allow the raw data to be transformed into information forbusiness analysis and insight. Unlike the techniques described earlier, BI starts with data rather thanmanual entry or diagramming.The Visualization of Work11

The modern use of the term dates back to a 1958 article by Hans Peter Luhn in A Business IntelligenceSystem. But in its modern form, BI allows insight into the various operations of a business throughcomputer-mediated representations in financial charts, operations dashboards, milestones againstbusiness objectives, and so on.The following screenshot shows a Daily Sales Dashboard from Tableau, one of the leaders in businessanalytics. It includes the characteristic features of BI dashboards: financial and other data is representedin various widgets, such as a sales chart, a geographical depiction of that data, as well as a customerdemographic detail section. Dashboards like these are generally driven by live or very recent data, so thecharts can be updating in real time, which is very unlike the earlier manual techniques.Tableau DashboardAnother example (following screenshot) from Domo Software consolidates financial information,information on sales, cash balance, expenses, etc., with performance goals, such as new-hire trainingprogram, fulfilled orders, etc.The Visualization of Work12

Domo DashboardOne of the greatest strengths is that BI dashboards and analytics can be driven by actual company data,and can boil down a great deal of complexity into a small area. Especially as companies are gathering evermore information from operations, employees, and customers there will be a mounting interest inmaking sense of that data.Note also that these BI dashboards are significantly more intuitive for those without the formal andlogical training involved in other representations. Any college graduate with an understanding ofstatistics and accounting basics can grasp what’s shown in the screens above. And it’s much easier to getthe gestalt of what is indicated: BI supports quick insight once the short learning curve is complete.However, BI does have some weaknesses. The social dimension may be underrepresented and it tends toresolve to an industrial orientation toward work as opposed to a human-centered approach, although thatcan be countered to some extent by creating widgets that focus on people data, like the new-hire trainingprogram example above.The Visualization of Work13

Strategic Insight through the Work GraphSocial network analysis grew out of the social sciences starting in the 1890s, when Emile Durkheim andothers researched social groups. But social scientists like Bronislaw Malinowski and Claude Lévi-Straussbegan—in the 1930s—the work that has become the foundation for understanding the social nature ofhuman communities and society.The anthropologist Gregory Bateson wrote in the 1960s that “a business is best considered as a network ofconversations.” This sentence establishes the deep context for thinking about businesses as communitiesand societies, with social relationships and how we communicate and influence each other at work.In recent years the term “social graph” made a careful distinction between social networks that are madeup of nodes representing people and arcs representing relationships, as shown in the following figure,and a more complex system in which social objects are also depicted. These are the items that peopleshare in social networks, such as photos, messages, and tags. Social objects plus the social network resultin a social graph.Social network in the Framingham Heart StudySource: New York TimesThe Visualization of Work14

Modeling social connection as graphs, where the arcs are relationships and the nodes are people, hasbeen a commonplace of sociology and other social sciences for generations. The analysis of socialnetworks has a solid mathematical foundation, so the strength of a relationship between two people canbe measured by how quickly and frequently those two people communicate via email, for example. Thiscould be denoted by the distance between the two nodes in a graph depiction, or using wider lines in thegraph to represent stronger connections, and thinner ones for weaker linksThe social graph below was generated by computerized email analysis across a company and analyzingthe communication between the folks in various departments and their partners and customers. Note,however that the emails involved aren’t shown in the rendered graph because the volume wouldoverwhelm.A Social Graph Based on Email CommunicationsSource: VoloMetrixThe Visualization of Work15

This sort of presentation allows for quick insight. For example, imagine a CEO viewing this VoloMetrixdisplay, looking to contrast it with the previous time period and to learn if the company’s initiative tobuild stronger connections between customers and the company’s services and support organization hasbeen successful. Simply glancing at two social graphs might give her that insight. And of course, thenumbers behind the chart are available as well.So, adding work objects like documents, messages, blog posts, customer information, and links, to thesocial network leads to what many refer to as the “work graph.” The Volometrix example above is basedon analysis of emails alone, but analysis of communications in other media, such as shared documents,chat, and so on, are equally possible. Likewise, representations that correspond to group membership,trust, closeness, and almost any other dimension of social relationship are possible, given thecorresponding data.Microsoft’s work on Delve is similar to VoloMetrix: Delve analyzes document use and other informationin Office 365 to try to surface what’s relevant for each user. However, it provides a dashboard-styleinterface based on a card or tile design metaphor to present each user an individual user experiencetailored by the work graph, or as they call it, the office graph.Microsoft Office Delve User InterfaceSource: MicrosoftThe Visualization of Work16

IBM Verse is a new, people-first email solution that also exploits the work graph, and also exposes it inpart (see People-first email from WeMail and IBM Verse). Following is a screen shot that displays thesocial network made up of the people connected to a single email.IBM Verse User InterfaceSource: IBMSurfacing that sort of information offers users awareness of the social fabric that connects them and theirwork artifacts, and makes their “social physics” more tangible.Smartsheet, the work collaboration tool built on the spreadsheet design metaphor, has recently released anew visualization capability called Workmaps (see Smartsheet announces Workmaps, a tool to visualizeconnections). Smartsheet is the first collaboration vendor that depicts the work graph of its users basedon their interaction with the tool. This technique is illuminating in part because one Smartsheet can belinked to another, just like spreadsheets can.Following is a work graph of a fictionalized company, based on the collaboration clusters around specificsheets, and the cross-linkages. The likelihood of quick insight is clear. More compelling is watching theThe Visualization of Work17

simulation of adoption in a company overtime, as is displayed in the tool when the Play button at the topright is clicked.Smartsheet WorkmapSource SmartsheetThese techniques for surfacing information about the work graph are all fairly new, and we’ve seen bothends of a dimension of scale. In Delve and Verse, the work graph is mined to present relevant informationto the individual users, while VoloMetrix and Smartsheet are presenting a 30,000-foot view of the workgraph suitable to gain insight at a big picture level. Note that Smartsheet also provides the lower-levelviews of Gantt charts, timelines, and visual status indicators, along with the higher level view of theWorkmap.The future of work visualization is providing the ability to shift from one end of that dimension to theother, as needed, and to mine all the work artifacts available—documents, messages, chat, images, and soon—to get work done at the individual level and to understand the status of work at any level ofabstraction, for example in the C-suite.The Visualization of Work18

To counter concerns that this sort of analysis steps over privacy boundaries, VoloMetrix’s technology doesnot read the content of the emails that it analyzes. Instead, it relies only on the subject line and thesender’s and receiver’s addresses. Similarly, Smartsheet reads the names of the sheets and identifies withwhom the sheets are shared, but does not have access to the sheet contents. In general, vendors mustwalk a careful line in shaping these tools, and the ways in which they undertake the analysis of ourcommunications to get at the work graph. For example, during Microsoft “YamJam” about Delve, somewondered about the possible consequences of people accessing company HR documents, likepsychological assistance, domestic partner coverage, and maternity benefits. If such documents becamepart of someone’s work graph, and that work graph was available to others, it would in effect go pastprivacy boundaries. But Delve only shows whether someone modifies a document.On one hand, those limitations restrict the benefits of work graph analysis and visualization for thoseparts of our working life that is about the work we do. On the other hand, it is obviously necessary to havestrong privacy controls in force when dealing with more personal matters, such as HR issues, or emailssent to loved ones. People must have personal control and be able to make certain activities andinformation private or secret, or the benefits of such analysis may not be realized.In the near future, we will see a growing demand for the visualization of work, and most specifically, theemergence of the work graph as the central motif in our perception of work on a social level. Its strengthsare based on the intuitive nature of the work graph, and the mathematical rigor that underlies socialnetwork analysis. Plus the connections between people and the artifacts that they work with lead tocontextually relevant collaboration, which is going to be a massive trend over the next few years, andwhich is driven by exploiting the work graph at a foundational level.The Visualization of Work19

Conclusions and TakeawaysWalking through the various sorts of work visualization has been revealing. One important takeaway isthat we are still using techniques from the early 20th century to understand 21st century work. Thatmight be alright if the two time periods have a great deal in common, but the stark truth is, they don’t, atleast not in the ways that matter relative to succeeding in business, today.The organization chart fails to show what is going on in the whitespace of the organization, where peoplecollaborate, work gets done, and products ship.Gannt charts and business process diagrams have their place, but much of the work being done today isnon-routine, so those techniques are increasingly irrelevant as proscriptive ways to channel people’s work.Such techniques are still powerful when tied to live data from ongoing projects or processes, but theyoften fail to capture the give-and-take going on outside the swimlanes.The dashboards of business intelligence can provide powerful ways of understanding operational detail,but aside from quite modern ones, BI dashboards fail to cast a light on the social interactions that defineorganizational culture, which is the wellspring of creativity, innovation, and grit in business.A new wave of tools building on the dynamics inherent in the work graph will displace conventionalapproaches, and establish a new dimension of enterprise software competition.Companies such as VoloMetrix, Microsoft, IBM, and Smartsheet are taking quite different paths, but arebuilding on analysis and visualization of the work graph to help drive strategic insight.The Visualization of Work20

About Stowe BoydStowe Boyd describes himself as a web anthropologist, futurist, and analyst. His focus is the future ofwork and the tectonic forces pushing business into an unclear and accelerating future. Boyd has workedas an analyst for Gigaom Research for several years and as the curator in the social and future of workarea since fall 2012. Boyd has been tracking the social revolution online since 1999, when he coined theterm “social tools” and starting blogging. He was president of Corante, a blogging pioneer, in the mid2000s and has been widely recognized as a theorist and influencer in the social web. He coined the term“hashtag” in ’07 during an online conversation with Chris Messina, the originator of the convention.He is at work on a book, Fast-and-Loose: The New Form Factor For Work. Boyd has participated innumerous conferences and events worldwide, including Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Gigaom Net:Work,Reboot, Next, Mesh, Shift, Lift, SIBOS, Defrag, SXSW, and several TEDx events.About Gigaom ResearchGigaom Research gives you insider access to expert industry insights on emerging markets. Focused ondelivering highly relevant and timely research to the people who need it most, our analysis, reports, andoriginal research come from the most respected voices in the industry. Whether you’re beginning to learnabout a new market or are an industry insider, Gigaom Research addresses the need for relevant,illuminating insights into the industry’s most dynamic 2014 Giga Omni Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.This publication may be used only as expressly permitted by license from Gigaom and may not be accessed, used, copied,distributed, published, sold, publicly displayed, or otherwise exploited without the express prior written permission of Gigaom. Forlicensing information, please contact us.The Visualization of Work21

Project Management Visualization Dozens of project management approaches visualize work. One well-known staple of project planning and management is the Gantt chart, named for Henry Gantt, who designed his chart between 1910 and 1915. Like the org chart, this technique is a