Seven Ways to Use Airline Maps to Improve Project Planning

A few years ago someone introduced me to the concept of an airline map in relationship to projects. Airline maps provide a quick overview of where an airline flies: their departure points, connections and destinations. An example of a very detailed airline map is posted here.

What is a Project Airline Map?

In the world of the project, an airline map can help make explicit the stakeholders, team members and issues on a project and how they connect through communication or process. Your goal is to capture the stakeholders and whether they communicate, provide inputs to other teams or rely on inputs from other teams. A draft of a project map using functional area names can be seen below.

Draft Project Airline Map for Release
Draft Project Airline Map for Release

As you can see, initial versions don’t need to be picture perfect in order to be useful.

After drawing the project airline map, the information captured in your map can help improve your understanding of:

  • Stakeholders on your project
  • Communication issues/ gaps
  • Risks on your project

Seven Ways a Project Airline Map can Help Project Planning

Following are seven ways a project airline map can help in your project planning. It can help…

  1. Identify stakeholders.
    By stakeholder I mean everyone on the project team and anyone who has an impact on the project. As an initial first pass to identify who is who and what roles they play the project airline map can be a good way to pull a big picture view together.
  2. Identify missing stakeholders.
    Reviewing the project airline map and release timeline can help reveal missing stakeholders and hidden assumptions that need to be made explicit.
  3. Identify critical stakeholders.
    Stakeholders with multiple connections to others on the airline map or that have a very large impact on the project need to be identified and addressed. Occasionally, the airline mapping will reveal critical stakeholders who have multiple connection points with other members on the team and this may help you….
  4. Identify hidden resource risks.
    If the person seems to be critical to the project, it may reveal a potential risk to successful delivery if that person is laid off or moves to another role.
  5. Identify gaps in your communication plan.
    Sometimes the lines drawn on the project airline map reveal where the team is not communicating. Reviewing the schedule in conjunction with your mapping can reveal places where you need to improve communication in some way.
  6. Identify communication risks.
    The lines of communication drawn between the nodes on a project airline map can also reveal places where communication could fail. Depending upon the process or handover, a communication failure could result in a schedule delay. Checking the lines of communication and the assumptions being made about communication timing can reveal risks to your project.
  7. Identify “Strange Attractors.”
    Frequently during projects, you will encounter “strange attractors,” or tensions that exert an undue influence on your project. During one of my projects, we had to transition the test team and a bulk of the testing effort to a vendor in Bangalore. That was a strange attractor that needed to be addressed in our plans. The project airline map flagged it and we had to address the change in communication by holding a Test Summit to make our plans explicit.

The project airline map is just one way to take a step back and get a big picture view of your project stakeholders and communications. Do you have other ways of reviewing the big picture of your project?

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