Using those techniques in the way I described allows you to define a solution in broad brushstrokes (identify the user stories you eventually want to deliver), and then describe slices of it in greater detail (via models, acceptance criteria, and examples).
This approach certainly allows for a great deal of flexibility and allows you to learn throughout, but it can be difficult for your team to be clear where you are or what part of the solution you are working on.
There are a few techniques I’ve found helpful to address that challenge.
The discovery board and definition of ready help your team with your discovery process, in other words, getting backlog items ready to deliver and building the shared understanding of each slice in due course. The discovery board provides a visual representation of where backlog items are in the discovery process, and the definition of ready provides a means of knowing when your team has enough information and keeps you from spending too much time on analysis.
The delivery board (sometimes referred to as a task board) and definition of done do the same thing for work occurring in the delivery process, where parts of the solution are built and tested.
The discovery board and delivery board are specialized versions of information radiators. These techniques provide visibility into your team’s process and progress, thereby providing full transparency.
Information Radiators are intended primarily for your team. They do add benefit to those outside your team (and as a result your team) by radiating information about the team and their current work. This helps people outside the team because they have a convenient place to look for information about what the team is working on that they can pull from. This helps the team because they may experience fewer disruptions from people looking for status-they can point anyone who asks to the board.
Agile Alliance is a great place to go to get information about all things agile software development related. (I am admittedly a little biased). Including several great resources on information radiators and offering transparency through visualization.
Boards that Flow
The discovery and delivery boards I described above were created to help teams working in time-boxed fashion. Work flows across the delivery board and queues up waiting to be brought into a sprint.
Information radiators are also extremely helpful in flow based approaches such as Kanban and Kanban Boards often form a central aspect of those methods. In those settings, the Kanban Board tends to combine discovery and delivery on a single board (if your team finds it helpful to track discovery work in this setting) and work flows across the entire board.
Kanban Boards in Practice
The best way to figure out if a technique is going to work for you is to try it. When you do that, it helps to see examples of how others have done it, and what lessons they learned. Prateek Singh and Daniel Vacanti shared their experience at Ultimate Software using Kanban, and in the process Kanban Boards, to improve the software development process of more than 25 teams.
Examples of Visualizations
Transparency is good not just for the progress of work items. At Agile2016 a group of practitioners facilitated by David Hussman described how they have used visualizations to share information about topics such as covering code complexity, team dynamics, product discovery, and organizational learning. This video captured what they had to say. You need to be an Agile Alliance Member to view this content. Find out more about Agile Alliance membership.
Visualizing a Portfolio, Then and Now
Information radiators are often thought to be a tool used primarily by and for teams. Bob Payne and George Dinwiddie have found that board are also useful across teams and at the portfolio level. They’ve had the opportunity to share their experiences and help others figure out how to use boards for their own portfolios a couple of times. First at Agile2013, and then again at Agile2017. Both of these sessions were workshops but the slides that Bob and George provided are chock full of examples that they have run across while they worked with teams and organizations.
Note: You need to be an Agile Alliance Subscriber to view this content. You can get your free subscriber account here.
Metrics on display
Most information radiators are intended primarily for the team to see what tasks are getting close to being ready or are underway. This adds a bit of transparency, but sometimes teams need to show more information that’s relevant across a broad spectrum of their work.
Fadi Stephen discussed The Agile Dashboard at Agile2013 and showed how teams use information radiators to display metrics to provide a holistic view of the overall health of the work on their product. Note: You need to be an Agile Alliance Subscriber to view this content. You can get your free subscriber account here.
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Kent J. McDonald