Joshua L. Roberts

Agile / Lean Enterprise Transformation Coach

Week Nine – We’re Starting to Radiate

By Josh Roberts | August 3, 2014 | 0 Comment

This week I had the great pleasure of visiting the control rooms of several power plants. Each control room was filled with monitors presenting vast amounts of data in the form of graphs, charts, and other images. And, while the plants are fully automated, there is always a human in the room; somebody at the Gemba (the real place). It got me thinking about our Agile/Lean information radiators.

control room

We also held our first Gemba Walk this week with the 4 teams that have been running Kanban systems for the past one month. It was absolutely awesome to see them share their boards with the Director of Applications Development! They were radiating all sorts of information and the resulting discussions were very insightful.

Per the Agile Alliance, “an Information Radiator is the generic term for any of a number of handwritten, drawn, printed or electronic displays which a team places in a highly visible location, so that all team members as well as passers-by can see the latest information at a glance: count of automated tests, velocity, incident reports, continuous integration status, and so on.”

Another less commonly used term is Big Visible Charts (BVC). And, like the power plant control room, Alan Shalloway prefers the term “Visual Controls”. This is because an information radiator implies a one-way flow of information from the team to key stakeholders. One of those stakeholders is management. With our Agile/Lean practices, such as the Gemba Walk, we are encouraging two-way engagement with management. The teams need servant leaders that will use the information to detect problems impeding the team’s ability to deliver value.

Information radiators are typically used to show status information, such as:

  • The current iteration’s work set (features)
  • The current work assignments (tasks)
  • The number of tests written or passed
  • The number of user stories delivered
  • The results of the last retrospective



Most importantly, this information is “real time”. Like the control room operator, management can use the data to ensure their delivery systems are running smoothly. They can take immediate actions to prevent the proverbial “melt down”. Management is an active participant.

“If you wait for people to come to you, you’ll only get small problems. You must go and find them. The big problems are where people don’t realize they have one in the first place.” – W. Edwards Deming

Per the Agile Alliance, “Intensive use of information radiators conveys two messages in addition to the information itself:

  • the team has nothing to hide from its visitors (customers, stakeholders…)
  • the team has nothing to hide from itself: it acknowledges and confronts problems”

Does the word “Transparency” come to mind?

As expected, our physical boards have been a great learning tool, but we are starting to see some limitations. For example, the boards are located across multiple rooms, floors, and even buildings. Our Gemba Walks make for great exercise!


So, when is the right time to move a team into a tool? It will vary from team to team, but I think 3 months is a good time to start thinking about it. With that said, depending on your situation, you may never need to move into a tool. It really depends on your use of Agile/Lean practices, organizational structure, locations, etc.

For us, many of the projects span multiple portfolio boards and teams. We need to reflect these dependencies. And, as the teams decompose work to match their WIP Limits, we are seeing opportunities to introduce Scrum practices focused on User Stories and Task management. We’ll have lower-level task boards that tie back to the portfolio boards. That’s a lot of cards for a team to manage on physical boards.

wall of cards

With 4 physical Kanban boards running, 5 more starting this month, and many more to come, we are now evaluating Agile/Lean Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) tools. A key requirement will be their visual controls. We must continue to radiate!


Josh Roberts

Agile / Lean Transformation Coach - Passionate About Delivering Value!


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