Visualization

Self-Organization & The Planning Board

Last summer I wrote about how I used some agile principles and practices to handle three problems we faced when living four families together in a small summer house. You can find that blog post here. When my vacation started, I spent some time thinking on improvements for this year’s stay (bringing together in total 19 persons). When everybody arrived I had prepared some new ”tools” for self-organization, with the Planning Board as the major new idea!

”The

These are the ”tools” we used

The Planning Board

The planning last year was compelled of a to-do list, and a schedule for the daily meals put up on the most central place in the house (i.e., the fridge :)). This set up worked well enough, but I wanted to improve it this year, and ended up with the Planning Board as shown in the picture above. It’s a matrix for each day in the week (that consisted of our stay in the summer house) with time slots (before lunch, lunch, afternoon, dinner and evening). To fit on the fridge the largest pager I could use was in A3 format, so I had to do my own stickies to be able to fit it all (cutting pieces of paper and using tape). As you may recall, ruler, scissors and tape are amongst my favorite agile tools! 🙂

”The

Above is a picture of the completed planning board, before any stickies were added. As you can see, I took the opportunity to make it colorful. Some additional information was also added to the board.

Below you can see the planning board, before the week started placed on the fridge (as said, the most central place in the house, where everybody passes several times a day).

”The

Initiatives

A sticky on the planning board represented an initiative. Maybe we could have used the word activity as well, but initiative felt better and more generic to fit our purpose. Each initiative had a driver (marked with ”D: <Name/s>”) on the sticky. The driver was the main responsible person for the initiative. Some initiatives regarded all persons, so they were marked with ”D: All”.

Some of the initiatives were given from previous years (like some shorter trips we like to do), so I added them before the week started to the planning board.

So could anyone just add an initiative? The answer here is both yes and no! Yes, because there were no rules for who could add a new initiative and no because some ”secret rules of self-organization” applied. I will explain them now. First, the driver needed sponsor(s) for the initiative. I.e. person/s that agreed and would ”join in”. Since most of the initiatives didn’t involve any major costs, finding sponsor(s) for the driver was pretty easy (”Shall we do this? Yes, that sounds like an good idea, let us add that to the planning board.”). A few initiatives involved cost, and they had to be funded, i.e. agreed upon with the owner of the summer house.

”The flyer”

To communicate about the initiative the driver in some cases used a flyer. Those didn’t fit on the fridge so we used a door for that. On the flyer the following information was stated:

  • Name of the initiative
  • Short description of the initiative
  • Name of the driver(s)
  • A motto
  • If participation was mandatory or not (the children put up a show every year, and attendance to that is always mandatory 🙂 )
  • Preferred time for the initiative (maybe if it was best suited as an evening activity)
  • An inspiring picture
  • Additional information.

The door

”The

Here you can see the door in the beginning of the week with five flyers added. The door also contained some feedback boards, that gave the opportunity for anyone that wanted, to give feedback (whether it was positive, negative or suggestions for improvements).

The planning meeting

After the dinner when all the participants had arrived, we held a planning meeting. At the meeting, this years new ”tools” were explained and we also did the first version of the planning (i.e., putting up all the stickies) on the planning board. Later some stickies changed back and forth during the week, mainly because some of them were weather sensitive. So the planning was like a guideline that we could follow, not rigid, and given the possibility to be flexible. This worked out really well during the week!

Self-Organization

With the ”tools” describe above the ecosystem was set enough to allow for self-organization! No-one was forced to do an initiative. Naturally the driver started and others would ”dig in”. This worked out really well during the week!

Hey, so you mean no problems at all occurred? Well yes, of course some problems occurred and needed to be sorted out. Mainly those discussions were handled by the four siblings (representing the four families). They came to an agreement in consensus, and in all cases I am aware of, everyone else aligned to that decision. Metaphorically, you can see this as the driver seeking sponsors to fund the initiative.

What happened?

Initiatives (a lot of them)

A lot of initiatives, with high commitment and value! It felt like more activity than previous year. New initiatives emerged during the week (I’m super happy with this, that showed that the ecosystem for self-organization really worked). Here is an example: One of the first evenings, an adult conducted a music quiz, following evenings many of the children held there own quizzes (with their music, almost impossible for the adults to guess :)).  Another example is building of a new porch for one of the smaller houses. This was an initiative that kept going ”in the background” during several days of the week (first to tear down the old porch, get rid of that, and then building the new).

Committed drivers (most of them)

In most cases, pin pointing a driver was really beneficial for the initiative, and the outcome was much better than leaving this with ”handled by whom it concern”. For one initiative I had higher hopes on the driver. In reflection maybe I should have taken a step back to get more involvement (I produced the flyer for this initiative, while not being the driver).

Alignment

Very little arguments or problems occurred during the week (less than previous year). All the people were aligned in terms of them knowing what was going on (a child knowing what day the Aqualand visit is planned, to an adult knowing who is responsible for making the dinner). The whole week was pretty much smooth sailing all the way!

Agile things we used

Open Space

If you are unfamiliar with Open Space, you can read more about it here. Basically I thought of the week like a long open space where initiatives (instead of topics) where put into time-slots.

Visualizations

The Planning board and the feedback boards are examples of visualizations.

Feedback door

Jurgen Appelo have come up with the idea of a feedback door. That inspired me to our door, as seen in the picture below (depicted after the week had ended).

”The

Planning meeting

Like the sprint planning meeting (in Scrum), we had a planning meeting with all participants to get understanding and alignment.

Self-Organization

I got some new inspiration regarding self-organization from reading the book ”Team of Teams”, which is may latest book review that you can find here.

Summary

Reading the feedback that was given about the week, it seems like a success (the only thing people complained about, was the weather – which wasn’t as good as it can be). I’m happy that everything I’ve set up worked out well, and that we improved from last year (kaizen – continuous improvements, remember?). It was also great to see the high commitment in the initiatives! Hopefully you now have some ”tools” to use when you want to bring structure to many people living together in a limited area during their vacation, or if you can use them in your daily work!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Tachometer to find perfect flow

How do you obtain a ”perfect flow” of work tasks passing through your software development team? That question have been in my head for quite some time. I can start by admitting that I don’t have a solid answer to that question (yet). However, I have instead thought of a way to visualise if you are having ”perfect flow” or not. How? I’m thinking of a tachometer!

”Tachometer”

Tachometer to find perfect flow

First of all, this is just an idea that popped into my head (this is actually the first encounter with the ”outside world”, so please bear with me). The idea is however to use a tachometer to indicate ”perfect flow” on a kanban board for a development team. Just like a tachometer is indicating if you are using the sweet-spot of your engine at any given moment.

My little example is a kanban board with three columns:

  • Design – Given the value 1
  • Development – Given the value 2
  • Test – Given the value 3

The values are used to calculate the position of the needle in the tachometer. I will now give you three examples that hopefully explains it all!

Example 1 – ”Too early”

”Tachometer

In this example three tasks are in the ”Design”-column, giving a ”tachometer value” of:

1 + 1 + 1 = 3

Thus indicating that we are ”too early”, and that the later steps in the flow (”Development” and ”Test”) are not utilised. The analogy with a car would be to ”gear up” meaning that the team needs to take the ongoing tasks to the later steps of the process.

Example 2 – ”Too late”

”Tachometer

In this example three tasks are in the ”Test”-column, giving a ”tachometer value” of:

3 + 3 + 3 = 9

Thus indicating that we are ”too late”, and that the team soon will run out of things to do. The similarities with a car would be to ”gear down” and for the team to put focus on feeding in new tasks to the kanban board.

Example 3 – ”Perfect flow”

”Tachometer

In this example the three tasks are evenly spread between the columns, giving a ”tachometer value” of:

1 + 2 + 3 = 6

Thus indicating that we have a ”perfect flow”, and that the steps in the process are utilised in the best possible way!

Summary

I understand that the mathematical formula behind this idea must be improved if this should become a reality. There are also cases where a tachometer like this will not be useful, for example if the team has just started. Maybe this can act as a challenge to manufacturers out there of digital kanban tools to add a tachometer in their product!

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Planning with multiple timelines

You should all know by now that I’m very fond of visualisations, to say the least. 🙂 Recently I’ve told you about how we did a ”retrospective with timeline”. That thought stayed in my mind when we needed to do some more detailed planning for multiple projects spanning multiple products. This blog post describes what we came up with. Here we go!

”Planning

The idea is simple, the timelines highest up on the whiteboard are projects (or larger initiatives, whatever you like to call them). The other bottom half (or whatever suits your needs) are products or components within a product (depending on the level of details you want to plan for). Usage:

  1. The project timelines shows major activities and milestones. I.e. ”hard facts” that we need to consider. For example a promised customer delivery.
  2. The product (or component) timelines shall show activities (work that needs to be done) and is used to find, and sort out, dependencies (”To deliver project X on time, we need to do activity 1 in product A, before we can do activity 2 in product B” and so on).
  3. Color coding. The activities needed in products (components) have the same color as the project that need them to create traceability.

Preparations

Before the actual planning meeting, you need to find a suitable whiteboard. The larger, the better. Preferably the largest one in the office! But think carefully, you may want to spend some time doing your plan, and therefore keep it up on the whiteboard for some time after the meeting to be able to make adjustments. At least I did, so I found one in a meeting room that is seldom used and started drawing.

Planning with multiple timelines

This is how the “planning with multiple timelines”-meeting was performed.

  1. Some 15-30 minutes before the meeting started, I went to the meeting room and draw the timelines for the projects that we needed to plan (with major activities and milestones). In our case two projects (larger initiatives) and two other activities that were more like dependent on the outcome of the planning. This acts as the starting point for the planning, i.e. things that we intend to deliver.
  2. The meeting started with me explaining the procedure (described above). Then the actual planning started. An example: ”We have promised to do this in that project, for that to work we need to add this in product A and that in B. Wait isn’t this needed in product C as well? Hmm, it is, maybe we should do that first then.” and so on. In this step you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the level of details you want to discuss, and the complexity in what needs to be done. The more dependencies you have the longer time to solve them out. Actually we had one first meeting to get an overview of everything, saving the details for later sessions.
  3. After the planning meeting I always take a picture of the whiteboard using my mobile phone for documentation and the possibility to communicate the plan outside of the room.
  4. As mentioned in a previous point you may want to revise your plan. Preferably you may want do it regularly as long as the projects are running, or you do it in the beginning in a couple of sessions to ”set out the course”.

Example

This is an example of a whiteboard with multiple timelines for planning.

”Planning

Summary

Ok, that was some thoughts and examples on how you can use multiple timelines for planning. If you don’t have several projects (or initiatives) running simultaneously, or you don’t have a complex flora of products you don’t need this. One possible enhancement I can think of is to use a digital whiteboard tool, to be able to keep the plan stored and also to distribute it easier. But for our needs a good old whiteboard suited us just fine. Don’t make things more complex than what they have to be, remember that!

If you don’t like this at all, it feels to much like “MS Project all over again” (however I don’t agree, the key is in the interaction between people to find out dependencies in front of the whiteboard) you can use my other idea for ”visual planning”.

All the best,
Tomas from TheAgileist

Famban

What is Famban? That is my own abbreviation of Family + Kanban! In other words, our attempt to visualise and keep track of all activities within our family. Can’t an ordinary kanban board solve that need? Of course, but we have made some additions that we find useful. It’s also quite fun to come up with a new name for something, I admit  🙂 .

”Famban

Famban in Favro

Setup

We use a collection in Favro with three boards:

  • Ongoing week (with one column for each day in the week – Monday to Sunday)
  • Next week (same setup as above)
  • Further ahead (with two columns; Coming – To keep track of things that are 2-4 weeks ahead & Later – to store stuff even further away).

Why have a bi-weekly schedule? It seems to fit our needs best. You could have a one week rolling schedule or four weeks instead, depending on your needs.  

We use color coding (called Tags in Favro) to visualise different types:

  • Recurring activities (Green) – Used for all recurring family activities, for example ice hockey school on Sundays for my son.
  • Activities (Blue) – To cover all “one off”-activities.
  • Travel (Red, not shown in picture above) – To keep track of an “activity” that spans more than one day.
  • Food (Purple, not shown in picture above) – We had an idea to keep recipes in here to also plan our dinners. To have 10-15 of our favourites to be able to spread them out during the two weeks and have some variation. We had not really succeeded in this though.

Operations

The operations of Famban is easy! Since Favro has a very good web interface for computers, together with apps for iOS and Android we can reach it everywhere all the time. This is the number one benefit of having a digital board like this!

It’s mainly me that maintains the Famban board. Every time an activity comes up, it’s added to one of the boards (ongoing week, next or further ahead).

Once a week, usually on Sunday, the next week is discussed and planned in more detail. Basically I then make “next week” the “current week” by switching places on the two boards (a simple drag and drop operation in Favro). I also change the week numbering (week 47, week 48 etc.). A trick here is to have double of all recurring activities, so you don’t need to copy them between the weeks.

Famban on fridge

”Famban

Our first attempt of Famban, was to put it up on the fridge. That is the most “central spot” in our home, here it’s seen multiple times per day by all family members. I made a physical version of the Famban board using several papers that I taped together. One problem was that it couldn’t be wider than the door of the fridge, and at the same time have the needed seven columns (one for each day in the week) and to be able to fit standard size stickies.  Therefore the “To-do” and “Done” sections were placed “below” the board.

This incarnation of Famban worked well at home, and we had daily morning meetings in front of it. The problem came when not at home, not being able to see it. Often the question came up during the day while at work, my wife called me and asked “Do we have something on Tuesday evening, or can I make arrangements with my friend X?”. That question was not possible to answer, it had to be handled later when at home again, that was inflexible so after a while this Famban board was not used.

Improvements

Here are some improvements that I have thought of, but not yet implemented:

  • When the kids get older and probably get even more recurring activities an improvement would be to add swim-lanes, one for each family member. That is supported in Favro.
  • To get the food planning up and running, adding nice pictures to the recipes would probably help!
  • We have lost the visibility by having the Famban put up on the fridge. That could be fixed by mounting a tablet device on the fridge, showing the Famban board 🙂

Summary

Famban is visualisation and family planning combined! I hope you liked this blog post, and that it inspires you to try something similar! As always, reach out to me if you have something to share!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Retrospective with timeline

I hope you do your retrospectives regularly? That is a good way to learn about what you do, and to keep your continuous improvements (kaizen) going. In this blog post I will describe a variant of a retrospective we performed, with a timeline to visualize what have happened during the time period we discussed. We used stickies in different colors for Good (Green), Bad (Red) and Improvements (Yellow) that we put up on the timeline. Why did we use it? The timeline helped us remember better.

”Whiteboard”

Preparations

Before the actual retrospective meeting, you need to prepare the timeline. Basically remember on a high level what was done during the time period. I sat down and did this on a piece of paper.

”Drawing”

In our case the time period spent over 6 months and I draw boxes for the main activities that happen. I also added numbers to each activity that was used as reference (see more information about that below). That was all the preparations I did before the meeting.

Retrospective with timeline

This is how the “retrospective with timeline”-meeting was performed.

  1. Some 5-10 minutes before the meeting started, I went to the meeting room and draw on the whiteboard the timeplan that I’d prepared. I also brought my stickies in different colors.
  2. The meeting started with me explaining the procedure. That each participant should think for 10-15 minutes and write stickies categorized as: Good (Green), Improvement (Yellow) or Bad (Red) and also add the number to reference the activity. A certain number (in our case 7 – Common) was used to specify common things that couldn’t sort under a activity, or covered the whole time period. The numbering made it easy to put up the stickies on the whiteboard.
  3. After all the stickies from the meeting participants were added to the whiteboard, they were discussed individually. We used the numbering to do all “Good, Improvement and Bad”-stickies for the activity in question. It becomes very visible if an activity was successful or not (a lot of Green stickies, versus a lot of Yellow/Red ones).
  4. After the meeting I always take a picture of the whiteboard using my mobile phone. The numbering on the stickies makes it easy to take them down and move them to your desk, where you preferably produce some sort of documentation of the meeting.

Summary

This retrospective is the one we used back in the days we had Scrum as our agile framework, but now with the timeline as a twist. The timeline adds value if the time period discussed is long (in our case 6 months, but can be both shorter or longer depending on the context), or if persons have been “in an out” for the activities (not participating for the whole time period).

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

The Circles – Products´ lifecycle visualization

Before the Summer I introduced the “Circle of Life” to my teams, a way to visualize the whole lifecycle for products. How did that go?

Background and introduction

The first (and most obvious) comment was that they didn’t understand and wanted me to explain more. This type of visualization is quite rare, I have not seen or heard about it anywhere else in the Agile community. Teams are used to work with boards (Scrum and Kanban) for their short-term work. This is a visualization that is much more long-term and therefore questioned. After that I have explained more, some saw the benefits and others didn’t (someone even thought it was a complete waste of whiteboard space…).

However, one person thought it was good but needed a representation of time, a timeline if you like. I remembered an old idea, the “Product radar” with circles. The circle closest to the middle represents “now” and circles further out from the middle represents “later”. I combined the two visualizations on top of each other and The Circles was born!

”The

The Circles

The metaphor I was looking for are the tree rings seen when sawing off a tree trunk. They surely represents time! In the following paragraphs I will introduce the concepts and functionality of The Circles.

Post-its usage and colors

Try to use the same color on the post-its to group ”product families” together. Put up intended releases, with version number and intended release date, on smaller orange post-its on your products (I cut them to that size with a scissors).

Phases

We have a number of products in the example above going through different phases. Some products are ”young” and in the early phase of their lifecycle, while others are ”old” and phasing the end of their life. The way you work with them is really different depending on which phase in the lifecycle they are.

We have divided The Circles into three different phases:

  1. Build-up – Your product is brand new and you have started to build it up. You add feature by feature to make it compelling to your customers out there.
  2. Serving – Your product is so ready that you can start to make money on it, you have your first customer! You continue to add functionality to attract more customers to make even more money. You want your product to be in this phase as long as possible!
  3. Retirement / termination – For some reason it’s time to retire your product. You take it off the market, minimize the maintenance, and migrate over customers to other (new) product(s).

Movement and timespan

How does the products move within The Circles? We have set up the following rules:

1st Customer – When the product have the first customer, it moves into the ”serving”-phase.

End of Sales – When we stop selling the product, it moves into the ”retirement”-phase.

Products with releases that are planned in the ongoing quarter are placed in the “inner circle”. Things for the next quarter are placed in the “middle circle”. Product releases for the next half year are placed in the “outer circle”. This way we can visualize all product releases for a full running year! You can of course alter the timespan to suit your needs.  

Example

This is the current version of The Circles we have visualized inside our “control room”. As you can see (with sharp eyes) we have also added team avatars (magnets) to high-light which team that is working with which product/release.  

”The

Summary

No-one is questioning The Circles anymore! To discuss and update it is a natural and appreciated thing we do on our weekly planning & prioritization-meeting. Would you like to try The Circles? I would love to hear more about your implementation and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions!

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist

Control Room 2.0

I have previously written about the “Control room” we are using. That blog post became quite popular, so I thought I should do an update showing what we have in the room today (all in the name of kaizen – I hope you don’t forget to do your continuous improvements?).

””Favorite

Team Kanban boards

The yellow circles shows some of the Kanban boards for our teams (not all are visible in the picture). They are pretty standard, except for one that is mirrored! You can read the story about why right here.

Shooting Target

Next up is our “shooting target” shown in the red circle. Here you can read more about that. Currently we use the “shooting target” to focus the work at the end of a product release. We put the release date in the middle “to aim for”, and then everybody sees what has to be done.

TV

In the middle of the room and in the blue circle we have our TV. This 4K TV shows status from our automated tests and bug tracking system. Here we can always see the current situation. Basically green means ”good” and normal, and everything else is deviances that we need to act upon. A desktop is connected to the TV to be able to show demos and support other discussions.

Circle of Life

In the grey circle our products lifecycle visualization is shown. Read more about it here. The “Circle of Life” started out very challenged (what is this really needed for?) but then the understanding of it, and thereby importance, has grown!

The work you do on your products differs a lot depending on which phases they are in. Now this is visualized. There might even be more changes to come, watch out for upcoming blog posts on that!

The Volcano

The Volcano shown in the green circle is our oldest visualization (apart from the team Kanban boards). It is the successor of The Arrow.  

Initially we had one swim lane per product within the volcano. That didn’t quite work out since a story (represented by a sticky) could in our case span several products. Now we have two swim lanes showing origin/ownership. Features are driven by product management, and foundation/platform are driven by the system architects group.

Summary

In total we have eight whiteboards in the room (not all of them are shown in the picture). Also present in the room is a sofa (for coziness), chairs and and a small table. Meetings in the ”control room” tends to be more informal than in a ordinary meeting room.

If I compare the “control room” now with the previous blog post (posted in May 2015), all visualizations have changed (apart from the Kanban boards)! That feels very comforting to know that we are able to add new stuff as we learn more, but also to fine-tune the existing things. What does your ”control room” look like?

All the best,
 Tomas from TheAgileist