Agile Practice: Visualization

If there’s one technique that has helped me and many of my customers to effectively deal with situations and get results, it’s visualization. Here’s how this agile practice works.

Visualization means that you make things visible, things that people don’t see or might have different views on. Once things are visual it becomes possible for people to discuss it, share their views, and align their thinking.

Why visualization matters

Visualization increases collaboration. Once things are visible it becomes a lot easier to work together on something.

You can use visualization for many different things:

  • Discuss the way of working in a team
  • Solve a problem that a team needs to deal with
  • Agree upon new functionality that you want to develop
  • Get insight into the progress that is being made towards delivery
  • Align different views in a team on a specific topic

You can use visualization any time; when you want to discuss something, when there’s an issue or impediment that needs to be solved, or when you’re stuck. It’s also a great technique to use in agile retrospectives.

How to visualize

There are many different ways to visualize things. Some of the ways to do it:

  • Make a drawing of a situation, problem, or solution (e.g. cause-effect diagram in a Root Cause Analysis or UML diagram for design)
  • Brainstorm and write down ideas, then make them visible for everyone (e.g. with sticky notes or fish bone diagrams)
  • Use a metaphor to bring out and organize information (e.g. sailboat retrospective, car brand)
  • Gather data and use a graph to visualize it (e.g. burn down chart or team velocity)
  • Use Lego Serious Play to model your ideas, way of working, anything.
  • Kanban boards are great for visualizing work. You can use physical boards with cards, of an online tool like Trello.

When you can get everyone involved in one physical location then you can easily visualize using white boards or flip-overs. But don’t worry, there are plenty of tools that you can use to visualize when working with distributed or dispersed teams. You can find some examples in the tools section of my retrospectives exercises page.

Getting started with visualization

Starting with visualization is actually quite easy: Just do it. Make a first board, draw a picture, start sketching together, and discuss what you see. Once you start with it and discuss the visual you will automatically start adjusting it. For a first try my suggestion is to use a white board or smart board, as it’s easier to change thing and try out stuff.

One great book on visualization that I highly recommend is Visualization Examples by Jimmy Janlén. It’s loaded with ideas on how to visualize things and it will inspire you to try new ways to use visualization in your daily work.

The book Visualization Examples is bundled with five other great books on Leanpub in Agile Practices and Tips. Buy these fabulous books with a nice discount.

How do you visualize things?

Ben Linders

I help organizations with effective software development and management practices. Active member of several networks on Agile, Lean and Quality, and a frequent speaker and writer.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Tawana

    I am interested in agile continuous improvement training. Can you recommend more information and helpful resources?

    1. Ben Linders

      Sure. Please see my services page. I provide in-house tailored workshops as well as public courses, helping professionals, teams and organizations to do continuous improvement.

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