Visualize – Seeing is believing

Earlier I’ve made some blog posts about the theories behind Agile and Kanban in particular. Now I will continue to tell you more about the six core practices in Kanban. Let’s start with Visualize, shall we?


The little bee story

A bee is out flying. For the sake of being we can call him Bill. Bill the bee. All of a sudden he finds flowers on a field, packed with truck loads of nectar! Bill flies his wings off back to the hive. Now he wants to tell all his bee friends where the lovely nectar is. But Bill can’t talk, after all he is just a bee. What shall Bill do? He needs to visualize of course! He performs a dance that is a visual representation of the way to the nectar. The correct term for this dance is waggle dance. So Bill performs the waggle dance, all his bee friends tags along to fill up the hive, mission accomplished.


Visualization is one of the strongest tools there is. Explaining something by drawing on a whiteboard gives a far better understanding than just talking. ”Seeing is believing” is 100% true! Before I get all carried away, we should all ”bee-hive” a little here :), I will tell you how this is done in the context of software development. When you visit a factory you can often see the process, material comes in at one end of the building, it gets processed in a number of steps and the finished product leaves at the other end, for example chocolate manufacturing. But in the world of software development, the work is taking place inside computers and servers (as well as in our heads of course). So it can’t be seen, it must be visualized! Then we can discuss the work process to be able to continuously improve it. How shall we do that then? Shall we perform a dance like Bill? No we put the work process up on a board (white board or any other free wall space).


Each step in our process is represented by a column on the board. Work tasks are represented with cards or stickies. How to find the appropriate columns for your work process? You have to dry-run a few tasks through your work process and the you will know the columns. Also remember that the Kanban board shall represent how you actually work, not the way you want to work. Remember the visualization is there to help you improve your work process. One other neat thing to use is avatars, i.e. representations of the team members that can be moved around on the white board (magnets with pictures or names).

If your team members are not co-located, you can use a digital tool to have your board in, but a physical board is to prefer. Seeing is believing, but also actual feeling when moving the tasks around the board (going from one step to another). Also take some extra consideration where you put your Kanban board. Preferably it should be seen by ALL team member all of the time. If that is not possible, it shall be placed where the team members passes it naturally during the day.


For teams that picks up Agile methods the two biggest boosters are visualization and the daily stand-up meeting. Have I convinced you that visualization is a good thing? If not, try it out tomorrow yourself and see the power of visualization! Start out with a simple personal Kanban board, with three columns: To-do, Ongoing and Done.

P.S. I initially thought to call this blog post ”Seeing is bee-lieving” but I changed my mind. I think you got enough of bees as it was 🙂 D. S.


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