Visual Management

If we have to remember something then what is the best trick? One obvious trick, used by most of us is to mark it as ‘To Do’ and keep it visible in front of us. This can be very easily done by write it down on a sticky note and paste it in the most visible area. The most common area to mark an official ‘to do’ is white board of our workstation, in fact, some person find it useful to paste such a note with their important ‘To – dos’ on their laptop. For personal work also, some find it useful to paste important reminders on the refrigerator door or on some other visible place of home.

Idea behind this simple trick is to keep important information visible, so that proper attention can be provided to it. When any information is in front of us then it continuously remind us about its completion and removing any bottlenecks to complete the same. In more precise words, it is a push mechanism which is hard to ignore.

Same scientific and creative measure can be applied in Project Management also. Here it is called Visual Management. To define it in more formal way – Visual management is the process of displaying critical information so that every project team member remains aware about the same. Even those who are unfamiliar with the details can rapidly see what is going on, understand it and see what is under control and what isn’t. In a nutshell, the current status of the project can be assessed, at a glance.

The value of visual management has been recognized by ‘Toyota’ long time ago. Toyota developed a system named Kanban (in English signboard) for lean and just-in-time production. Kanban is a method which uses standard units or lot sizes with a single card attached to each. A new card is “pulled” into the system only when the work represented by an “in progress” card is completed. They also attempt to minimize work in progress by limiting the number of cards which can be in given step of the process as well as how many cards each team member can work on at a given time.

Concept of this system used in Lean and Agile Software development methodologies for visual management.  In Agile methodology, visual management is popular with name “Information Radiator”. “Information Radiator” is a popular term invented by Alistair Cockburn that is used to describe any artifact that conveys project information and is publicly displayed in the workspace or surroundings. Information radiators are very popular in the Agile world, and they are an essential component of visual management. Information Radiators display information which they care about without having to ask anyone a question. This means more communication with fewer interruptions.

The essence of information radiator or visual management is ‘Information’. So let’s go through information which is useful as Information Radiator.

Most Popular Information Radiators

 Let’s discuss some popular information radiators. Here, I am not describing details of these artifacts (in terms of what, why and how) as objective of this blog is Visual Management. So provided details are in scope of visual management only.

  • Task Board or Kanban Board

Kanban can be used to organize many areas of life. There are many possible Kanban board design. Task Board or Kanban board is often large boards with various columns displaying status of the various features. The Simplest Kanban or Task board contains three columns “To-Do”, “In Progress”, “Done”. Following is one example:

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We can add more columns in above task board as per our needs. For example:

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  • Big Visible Charts

Charts like – Burn Down (Remaining estimate of the project over a period of time) and Burn Up (Consumed efforts of the iteration) are useful artifacts for visual management. As these charts represent health of the project and easy to understand. To avoid the overhead of daily update, we can update these charts on weekly basis.

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  • Product Roadmap

High level strategic plan which provides a long term outlook of the product.

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  • Impediment List:

Open Points and Action items which are identified in daily stand up meeting. This can also be visible on whiteboard using sticky notes.

 

Other Useful Information Radiators

  • Unit Test Case Coverage

Percentage of Unit Test Coverage of the Code

  • Bug Status (Test Case Execution)

Total number of Bugs with their Status (Open, Close, Accepted) and Priorities (Blocker, Critical, Major, Minor).

  • Retrospective Outcomes

What went well in last iteration, Points to improve

  • Product Backlog

Features along with priority

  • Team Planned Leave Details

Team leaves in calendar format

These are some commonly used Information Radiators. But it is not mandatory to use all of these in project. Way of displaying any information can also be change as per need. Most important point to consider is ‘simplicity’ of presenting this information. If it is not easy to understand, people will not attract and not be able to appreciate its importance. To make simplicity it is advisable to use simple tools (e.g. Colorful stick notes, Markers, White Board, etc.) to convey such information. Another most important thing, don’t make data visible just because it is available. Team won’t be bothered about maintaining information if it is not used. Team is also free to choose any other information which is useful to make visible.

A Good Visual Management System

  • is large and easily visible
  • Changes periodically, so that it is worth visiting
  • is understood at a glance
  • easily kept up to date

Visual Management System can

  • Help a team to self-organize
  • Assist with organization and planning
  • Instantly understand impediments (things causing delay) and take steps to remove them
  • Inspire team collaboration
  • Control/highlight WIP (Work in Progress)

At the End

Visual Management is one of the key components for Lean – Agile Software development. An informative workspace broadcasts information into the workplace. When people take a break, they will sometimes wander over and stare at the information surrounding them. Sometimes, that brief zone out will result in aha moment of discovery.  One of the major advantages is to increase team collaboration. But it is also true that it can’t be maintained successfully without team support. As this approach is not a conventional approach, so there is a possibility of resistance for its adoption. To overcome this point, initiator of this approach shall start with simple steps not to start too many things all of sudden. We shall start to make visible what we know and useful for all. Also, we shall refer these radiators in our routine project discussions such as Daily Stand up meetings. It would be nice to do the daily stand up in front of this informative workspace, where one can refer this information in discussion.

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