What does an effective Big Visible Information Radiator look like?

I’ve come to realise over time that the most effective Big Visible Information Radiators (BVIRs) are the ones that have the least amount of information on them.

I remember the first time I was given a huge LCD monitor for my scrum team. I asked them what they would like to use it for – they said sprint status, so I created this:

Make no mistake, I was extremely proud of this – it ably demonstrated my ninja Excel skills.

It displayed all the sprint metrics I could think of:

  • Days left on sprint
  • Number of story points committed
  • Number of story points delivered
  • % done work
  • Sprint burndown (with variance and prediction)
  • Capacity utilisation
  • Story cascade (how many stories have been hanging around for more than 1,2 or even 3 sprints or more)
  • Team velocity (over time) with current 3 sprint rolling average
  • Build Status for 8 separate builds (through link to Jenkins server)

I loved it, and so did a few project managers in the office who often stopped by for an explanation.

Did the team find it useful?  Nope. Not at all. Nada. Not in the slightest.

I should have realised I was on the wrong track by the fact that it needed explanation (and that the Project Managers liked it!)

If I was to use a metaphor I would liken this type of radiator to a cricket scoreboard:

Lots of information but….

If I was to ask you to take a 2 second glance and tell me who’s winning, could you?

But what about a football scoreboard?

Now does that pass the litmus test? Yes, I can see the score line and how many minutes have passed although I would prefer it to show how many minutes are left.

Keep it simple, stupid

The more I thought about this the more I realised that the best information was the least information. This principle was well understood by the creator of the road signs in the UK – Margaret Calvert. She knew to keep things simple. She came up with easy-to-understand pictograms, including the signs for ‘men at work’ (a man digging), ‘farm animals’ (based on a cow named Patience that lived on a farm near to where she grew up), and ‘schoolchildren nearby’ (a girl leading a boy by the hand), using the European protocol of triangular signs for warnings, and circles for mandatory restrictions.

 

So, using the less is more approach and the road sign simplicity I asked the team to come up with something. It so happened that there was a paper swing-o-meter in use throughout the organisation to show whether we were hitting our targets, exceeding our targets or failing miserably. We based our design on this. By linking it to the sprint data we had in JIRA we were able to display our sprint status as a swing-o-meter. It looked like this:

Interesting sprint name there (don’t ask!)

During development of this there were some interesting debates regarding the algorithm that determined whether we were “missing it”, “on it” or “all over it”.

From a waste perspective I wanted to ensure that we were penalised for Work In Progress (WIP) as this was essentially waste until the job was complete. Also, the higher the number of items not done nearing the end of the sprint should have a penalty too (but not a penalty if at the start of the sprint). It was getting reasonably complicated. So we just released what we had to see how it would work for us and tweak it as we went along (pretty Agile eh?).

So what happened when we used this big visible information radiator?

  • It provoked some buzz in the office – other departments wanted one too! (So we adapted it to work for any JIRA project)
  • It was a constant check on each day of the sprint. If the arrow moved into the red then we would discuss what was happening
  • Team members felt a strong desire to move that arrow into the green section
  • It generated a lot of ideas for improvements. We created a backlog for it and built some adaptions. (One of them being the shadow arrow which shows the previous day’s status)
  • It’s still in use and in ongoing development

So what did I learn?

  • Be careful of the danger in thinking that you have a lot of real estate and packing loads of info into it
  • Just because you have the data doesn’t mean it needs to be displayed, find only the useful stuff. Keep asking yourself, “will any behaviour change as a result of radiating this information?”
  • Have a clear idea of the purpose for your information radiator. Is it for the team? For a stakeholder?
  • Use the 2-second glance to check if the information is quickly assimilated

Following the agile principle : Simplicity–the art of maximizing the amount of work not done–is essential.

Please post any information radiators your team uses in the comments. I’d love to see them. Here’s ours in situ:

BVIR for team sprint
BVIR for team sprint