Pattern of the Month: Information Radiator
Many departments with "agile" operations are full of whiteboards-turned progress updates. Here's a look at the concept of "information radiators."
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Walk across the departmental floors of any “agile” organization, and you are likely to stumble upon whiteboards which have been co-opted to show the progress of work by teams of people. Index cards or sticky-notes, each representing a piece of work to be done, will be placed in various columns across each board. Team members will move these items from one column to the next, as the work is drawn from a backlog and then actioned and finally completed. The principle behind these boards is simple. By exposing this information for everyone to see, a shared understanding of the state-of-play will be encouraged and collaborative effort will be improved. There will be less opportunity for confusion about what is being actioned, who is working on what, the work that has already been completed or which is currently impeded, and the work that has yet to be started. These boards are by far and away the most common sort of “information radiator" to be found.
Note that you can stumble upon these radiators quite literally. The passageways the whiteboards occupy may be the only space available to accommodate them. Eventually, health and safety concerns might bubble their way up through estate management, and a thinking-through of the office layout may then happen. Until then however, there is typically no redesign of office space to accommodate information radiators properly, or indeed any other change to the physical environment so as to better support agile practice.
One further problem to watch out for is that the boards themselves might play little part in the actual business of a team, including at a Scrum or Stand-Up. You sometimes find that attendees do not have a shared focus of work. This means that they are not truly a team, even if they might be called one. The ritual of a "Daily Scrum" is aped but the purpose and collaborative intelligence behind it is lost. Instead, attendees extemporize upon what they as individuals have done. or would do were forces beyond their control not conspiring against them. There is no replanning of work towards meeting a shared Sprint Goal, no common ownership of process, and no real sense of joint enterprise. In this situation, the board holds a theoretical model of a group purpose which has decayed into personal irrelevance. It is an object beside which this sorry congregation meets so that their ceremonies can be seen to take place, but if there is any practical use for their altar, then that is left as a mystery for others to solve.
Information Radiator is February’s Pattern of the Month at agilepatterns.org
Intent: Make the status of a team and its work immediately apparent
- Honesty is the best policy
- Tell the truth and shame the Devil
- Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
Also Known As:
Motivation: Lack of timely and appropriate information can lead to faulty decision making and poor collaboration. It is important that a team and their stakeholders have ready access to the status of work in progress, any impediments, any future work that is anticipated, metrics that allow practices to be inspected and adapted, any forecasts or commitments that have been made, and what responsibilities are being assumed.
Structure: A team will have an ordered backlog of work items. As items are accepted and worked on, an information radiator will be updated to show the state of progress. The information radiator can be inspected and adapted by the team in order to make sure that its contents remains current, and that it is structured in the most useful way possible.
Applicability: Information radiators have their origins in Lean Kanban where “andon” signals are used to flag impediments and other status indicators to a team. They have subsequently found application by in agile methods and their use is widely accepted.
Consequences: Information radiators usually require team discipline if they are to be kept up-to-date. If they are not updated regularly, their value will decrease and team members will be even less likely to maintain them.
Implementation: The most common information radiator is a Kanban board or task board. Variants of these can be found in use by most agile teams.
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