Space Matters

Visualization needs space. Ideally, several spaces.

Facilitation Space: This is the most obvious, but it can be the hardest to come by. It's difficult to get a space that works for all the different kinds of engagements you'd want to have AND is permanently assigned to you. If the facility doesn't have a permanent facilitation space, get used to using portable walls. 

The best spaces are flexible, modular, and open, with long, uninterrupted walls for your paper. Think: racquetball courts... with carpeting and better acoustics. And hopefully not as smelly. With chairs and tables on casters, you can reposition the room as the agenda calls for. 

My favorite layout has a circle of chairs for plenary sessions (no tables) AND elsewhere in the room, pods of tables with seating for 4-to-6 for breakout groups. 

Board room-style conference tables are the WORST. They're big, heavy, immovable, and are horrible for group breakouts. Participants can't even see each other on a board room-style conference table. 

Storage Space: This is a stuff-intensive business. You're going to need to store complete and work-in-progress charts, easels and portable walls, new rolls of paper and flipcharts, other materials like ink and markers, plus all the stuff for participants, like stickies, pens, and activities. And have plenty of bookcases for all the books, binders, cards, and other materials you're sure to collect.

Studio Space: A place for you to work digitally and on the wall. I like a studio to have my desktop computer with a ridiculously-sized monitor (or monitors), an 11x17" printer and scanner close by, a light table, and room to at least prepare a 4'x10.5' chart.

Photo Space: The cheapest way to digitize charts is to photograph them. Most visual practitioners photograph their charts on the spot. I find that lighting on site can be uneven and a struggle to correct. I have a large wall dedicated to photographing charts, with movable lights to minimize drop off. Nothing fancy: it's just two 4' fluorescent shop lights suspended from the ceiling and aimed at the chart wall. It's low tech, but it works. Eventually, you might get to the point where you can justify a chart scanner, but those suckers cost upwards of 16k.

Video Space: Specifically, for action sketches. Simple is better. I like to draw on paper as opposed to whiteboards, so my set up is smaller than most. One of my 4' shop lights pulls double duty here, illuminating a drafting table. I have a camera attached to a lighting stand above the table. That's it. 

Storing & Sorting Charts

After spending the weekend auditing nearly five years' worth of charts, I came to appreciate how important it is to have a good organizing system. Even with the general policy of returning charts to the client, leftover charts can pile up fast.

I have several rolling wire chart racks (also known as wire roll files) similar to this one. Each rack is dedicated to a category of chart:

  • Unused, new, ready-to-grab paper rolls
  • Paper remnants left over from other jobs for practice, video scribes, or small jobs
  • Portfolio-worthy examples to use as demonstrations or for teaching
  • Graphic templates, mostly the Grove's Strategic Visioning templates
  • Finished charts, ready to be returned to the client
  • Active charts: works in progress or charts that are part of a long-term engagement

The rest get recycled. When in doubt, throw it out (and I mean recycle.)

The long, cardboard boxes that new rolls come in are like gold. They're great for shipping or storing many charts at a time. 

Draft a Charter

A charter can take the form of a negotiation with the champion of the practice. Here are some things to agree to, in addition to the basics of compensation:

  • Term: how long do you estimate it will take to build a fully self-sustaining practice? Three years is pretty safe. Set that expectation up front so there would be no surprises, and so that your transition out once the practice is up and running is smoothly. Also set the expectation to potentially continue as hourly or independent contractor after the end of the term.
  • If you'll be bringing your own existing business into the practice, strike the non-compete clause.
  • If you'll be bringing in your existing network of collaborators and you want to continue to work with them after the fact, strike the "no headhunting" clause.
  • Depending on your hiring agreement, you may request to be allowed to continue to work for your own company during the term.
  • Report directly to the CEO. Reporting to a program manager can short-sight the work and focus you on contract work at the expense of building the practice.
  • Avoid having a utilization target: you are in start-up mode, and you're proving value of the practice to the company, which is hard to do if you're primarily client-facing.
  • Include a budget for materials: paper, markers, ink , tape, etc.
  • Include a budget for training, like IFVP attendance.
  • Include a budget for business development (meals, travel, etc.)
  • Include a budget for computer hardware and software, such as Apple monitors, Microsoft Surfaces, Cintiqs, scanner/printers which can print 11x17 paper, and the Adobe Creative Suite.
  • Be clear on expectations about where you'll work. Chances are, you have a home studio with more capabilities than the office. 
  • Also, lay out some of the ethics of facilitation to set out the expectation of how you will show up in meetings, which is to say, advocating the process, not the outcome or any specific course of action or agenda.

Finally, include the core elements of your job: building a visualization practice. That means developing three things: the services you provide, the training you offer, and the intellectual property you design and publish.

Begin with a Vision

Before you do anything else, create a vision. A clear, concise, memorable vision will serve you throughout the stand up of your practice. It is your own job description. It clarifies what tasks you should (and should not) take on. It is what what ultimately will win you buy-in and sponsorship from leadership.

The vision is not for marketing purposes. It should not be crammed with adjectives, big words and consultant-speak. Everyone on the team should be able to instantly recall the vision.  Keep it short.

The vision should be ambitious enough inspire motivated people to join your team. It should reflect a higher purpose than dollars and cents. Like the NASA janitor who said, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon," it should unify the raison d'etre for everyone on the team.

And of course, the best vision is visual. A good exercise is to have each individual on your team create a mindmap with the vision at its core, branching out their own unique interpretation of what that means. That creates meaning and connection for the vision to each individual making it their own. And creating a single mindmap with each team member's perspective is a powerful visual. 

But again, the real value of the vision is that it ultimately defines what you're trying to achieve - a story you'll have to tell over and over as you grow the practice.

Example visions:

  • Build a world-class visualization practice
  • Enhance [the core business] through visuals
  • Be the go-to visualization practice in [pick a locale, pick an industry]
  • Serve [pick a clientele] through visuals
  • Turn everything into a picture