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Agile Technique Guideline: Information Radiators


Quick Summary
Screenshot Information Radiators, also known as Big Visible Charts, are useful quite simply because they provide an effective way to communicate project status, issues, or metrics without a great deal of effort from the team. The premise is that these displays make critical, changing information about a project accessible to anyone with enough ambition to walk over to the team area and take a look.


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What this is

This technique describes an approach used by many agile teams to communicate information about a project called the "Information Radiator." Alistair Cockburn coined the term in 2000 to describe publicly posted displays that show anyone walking by what is going on. Information Radiators are sometimes referred to as Big Visible Charts. This technique briefs provides some suggestions for using Information Radiators on your project.


Why it's useful

Information Radiators are useful quite simply because they provide an effective way to communicate project status, issues, or metrics without a great deal of effort from the team. The premise is that these displays make critical, changing information about a project accessible to anyone with enough ambition to walk over to the team area and take a look.

Information Radiators are also good ways to remind the team of critical items, such as issues that need to be addressed, items on which the team is currently working, key models for the system on which they are working, and the status of testing.

Depending on the type of information tracked on the Information Radiators, these displays can also help the team to identify problems early. This is especially true if the team is tracking key metrics about their performance where trends in the information will indicate something is out of whack for the team. This type of information includes passing and failing tests, completed functionality, and task progress.


How to use it

  1. As a team, determine what information would be very helpful to see plastered on a wall in plain sight. The need for an Information Radiator may be identified at the very beginning of a project, or as a result of feedback generated during a retrospective. Ideally, it will communicate information that needs to go to a broad audience, changes on a regular basis, and is relevant for the team.

  2. Decide not only what you want to show, but the best way to convey it. There are a variety of methods to choose from, including a whiteboard and markers, sticky notes, pins, dots, or a combination of all of the above. Anything goes, as long as it is not dependant on a computer and some fancy graphics software. (Unless of course you are working with a distributed team; see suggestions for that situation below.)

  3. Grab the necessary tools and get to work, but don't forget to have a little fun with the creation process. Remember to make the Information Radiator easy to read, understand, and update. You want this to be a useful, living display of information, so don't paint yourself into a corner at the beginning.

  4. Remember to update the information radiator when the information changes. If you are using it to track tasks, you may change it several times a day. If you are using it to track delivery of features, it may be updated once a week or every two weeks.

  5. Check in with the team regularly to find out if the Information Radiator is up to date and still useful. Find out if people outside the team are using it to gather information about the team's progress without causing an interruption. Find out if there are possible improvements, or if the information radiator is no longer needed. Whatever feedback you receive, act on it.
About the Author

Kent J. McDonald, partner and co-founder of Accelinnova, has more than a decade of experience guiding successful projects and designing business solutions in a variety of industries, including financial services, health insurance, performance marketing, human services, non-profit, and automotive. By addressing common questions about project leadership, Kent demonstrates how agile practices can be applied in organizations, focusing on his "Words To Lead By: Collaborate; Iterate; Serve The Team; Consider Context; Practice Excellence; Reflect And Adapt; Deliver Value."

Kent has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University and an MBA from Kent State University. He is co-founder, and Treasurer of the Agile Project Leadership Network, is a founder of the Agile Iowa Group, and is on the planning committee for the Agile 2007 Conference. He welcomes questions about project leadership with a focus on value at kent@kentmcdonald.com.


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