Live from BAWorld: A Case For Visual Models

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I heard a presentation at BAWorld, but for this one I won’t mention who it was, because I’m going to critique it in a very specific way. The talk wasn’t bad per se, but one thing about it really bothered me. You see, the speaker displayed a slide that was supposed to convey traits of an effective team. The slide contained a circle with 16 lines coming out from it (like a sunshine almost). Each line had a trait on it, for example “committed”, “conflict management”, “self directed”, etc.

The speaker then asked us “What traits are missing?” And my immediate reaction was to go to a place of “Seriously? You want me to read a list of 16 things and tell you something meaningful that is missing?”

So this is another fine example of Miller’s Magic number, aka 7 +/2, where the human brain can only hold that many things. So by the time I get to item 10 out of 16, it’s unlikely I remember the first.

Add to that, the ideas around the wheel aren’t parallel ideas, so it’s even more frustrating. If you are going to make a list like this, make them the same type of word – i.e. verb, noun, etc. Ideally they should be of similar type too, but that’s harder to measure.

And finally, if you are going to use a visual to display your list, that’s great, except that it needs to be one that actually organizes the information in a way that is useful. A circle of lines did not help organize the list. Maybe if he had grouped items together, there would have been 7+/2 items at the first level, with a few branches off each of those.

People did play along and shout ideas, but honestly, I thought the ideas overlapped with what he already had up there. Who knows.

This whole example is simply more justification for why we use visual models to represent information. With an appropriate model choice, we wouldn’t have to remember 16 things, it might have helped force a parallelism, and finally it will help organize the information.

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