My good friend and cowrite
Joakim Sundén has
taught a great deal about agile and lean… and a whole bunch of other
things too. One thing that he said, early in my journey, that I didn’t
fully believe was:
It’s always interesting to see the spontaneous discussions that appear
around a kanban board (or other visualisation)… after the meeting
(Not the exact quote, because that would be much more well put and
eloquent but still…).
So Joakim says that just by having a visualisation in place discussions
arises. For example, after the daily standup around the board, people
linger and discuss about the state of the board, about improvements or
other work related things.
Have you experienced that?
I have. Often. Very often in fact. But not always. In this post I’ll
outline a few things that in my experience makes these conversations
happen more frequently and some words on how to harvest this nugget of
(The reference in the title is of course from
Field of Dream with Kevin Costner)
Make it visual
The first thing is pretty obvious … and not. If you want people to
notice, understand and act on important information - make it visual.
An excel list is much harder to digest and interpret than a board with
cards in different columns. Or a diagram showing a visual representation
of the data.
This is one of the driving forces behind having boards that represents
our work instead of keeping lists on paper. The spatial properties of
moving things around radiates a lot more information quite simply.
Consider the picture, from our book
, next to this paragraph. Consider the
amount of status, problems and information that this picture tells you.
And we have not even written what the cards is about, they are just
More about visualisations here.
### Make it in your face
| By Arthur
, used under Creative commons
Another thing that I've found invaluable is to make the information as
apparent as possible. Put it on the wall or leave the big whiteboard out
all the time. Boards and other visualisations that is rolled out or
where you have to start a projector or pull down a screen is soon
forgotten and the information grows stale and unused.
There's a lot of wall space that is not used in most offices that can be
used to radiate information about our work instead.
As always, this might not work for everyone, but I would advise you to
do as good as you can. I've worked in offices where wall space is almost
sacred and permit needs to be had from the office decoration department.
But a wall of paper that we moved just a little to the side was quite
alright. So we used one. For 3 years. It was out all the time, and we
used the information on it in our daily work. I think I spent $20 on
### Make it big
This is related to the point above but something that I've often found
overlooked. Hence important information is overlooked and disregarded,
which leads to less learning and less improvements.
If you printout that really important, pretty formatted graph on a A4
and post it on the wall - people will ignore it. Pretty as it might be.
However - hand draw the same diagram and make it less exact and pretty.
But this time make it 2 x 2 meters on a white board - people will
notices it and look at it. Ugly as it might be.
I've never drawn a board or another team visualisation tool and then
thought to myself: "Man, this is WAY to big."
But I have thought the opposite... many many times.
### Make it easy to change
This is crucial for the "live" feeling of the data. Make your
visualisation in a way that is easy to change. And that feels like it's
supposed to change. If it looks really slick and professional, printed
on a 100x70 cardboard glossy paper - it it's not supposed to change.
This is something that we put out in the lobby to show people. Not work
This the reason I always prefer to do important visualisations on a
whiteboard and draw them pretty sloppily. Not too sloppy, but not too
good either. Make it look like anyone could have done it and that anyone
could change it. Because then they might.
### Make it easy
If you want people to react (possible even change their behaviour) you
first need them to understand. Trying to simplify and aggregate the
information to only show the most important things has proven very
useful for me, when it comes to get people to understand.
Some visualisation contains a lot of information at once, such as a
kanban board. This is great but can also cause a bit of a overwhelming
feeling and then you immediately stand the risk of people loosing
interest or understanding of the information you need them to act upon.
The latest experience
I have around this is a great
example on what I mean. We created a diagram that we wanted all the
staff to know about. It's about how many customers that we serve each
day at this company and what our target is.
However, to our surprise no one seemed to react on it. We were well
below target and we explained that consequences (not making money - no
sustainable company - no work for any of us), but still no reaction.
Just on a whiff I added a new line on the diagram; the "every day below
this we're losing money"-line. And renamed the target line to "here we
can evolve our company from the profit we're making". And all of a
sudden eyes where opened. Conversations were had. Questions about our
measuring methods and data was asked. In short - people cared. Because
they understood the information before them.
Note that the visualisation was all of the above mentioned things; it's
really big (1,5 x 1,5 meters), it's in their face every morning meeting
and it's visual. But they didn't understand it. And hence didn't react.
## Ok - they get it. Now what?
If they "finally" get it, how can you support the ownership and further
improvement efforts made from seeing the visualisation? Here's a few,
very simple, tips that I've seen work a number of times.
### Give them the pen
This is so hard to do. Especially for me. Quite frankly I think I get
a +10 IQ boost when I hold a whiteboard pen... But it's also simple;
Don't draw yourself! Give the pen to someone else.
Something that you have drawn yourself feels like yours. There's an
immediate feeling of ownership and responsibility that is quite
different from the things you have "printed yourself, from Excel". So
give the pen to someone in the team. Better yet - pass it around.
For the diagram showed above we have someone in the staff to update the
number of customers everyday. I just ask someone on the way in and tell
them the number; "Pssst: Mrs Sinaga. Can you update the diagram today?
98. Thank you." and I give them the pen.
I. Give. Them. The. .... Give them the .... p ... peeeeeen. There!
I let it go. Phew!
### Change it ... or let them change it
Another thing that is really important for the sense of ownership is to
let them change and improve the visualisation. This is not for reporting
to high managers really (although it can be use for that too... see this
This is a team tool that we use to work more effectively together. Let's
change it so that we can do that. Let the tool evolve too.
Make sure that you encourage to change it. If someone (anyone) asks just
tell to go ahead. I always take photos of the changes the board goes
through (even data) so we can always go back to the previous design if
If you really sneaky you can ask them; "Why do you want to do that
change? What will be better?" to make them reflect before they act. But
that's coaching ninja-level.
### Walk away ... and stick around
This is the advice that the whole blog post started with. Once you have
explained the current status of today, don't linger around to long. Just
tell the status (remembering that this is not good or bad news - it's
just news that we can act on to improve) and then walk to the back of
But stay there.
Now... if you have made the visualisation visual (duh!), big, easy and
the team has taken ownership of it... something magical will happen.
People will start to cooperate towards a common improved future.
Not every time, maybe not everyday but often enough that I dare promise
you that this will happen.
It seems like if you give awesome people a goal that they buy into they
will do awesome things to try to reach that goal.
**UPDATED:** Here's a short movie taken ca 30 seconds after we ended the
morning meeting 2014-11-04. Just listen to the conversations,
explanations, questions and clarifications taking place. This is
From you position in the back of the room you should be supporting,
observing, taking notes and ask questions:
who is quiet?
what are being said?
do we dare to change the visualisation?
do we know WHY we change the visualisation?
for suggested actions ask things like:
- Great idea - what is the smallest thing we can try to validate if
that is helping us or not?
- Awesome - how can we do more of that?
- I like that - tell me again how we're reaching the goal by that