The power of visualisation over documentation

The power of visualisation over documentation

One of the driving forces of Agile is transparency. Agile focuses on yielding faster and better
business value, for that working efficiently in autonomous self-governing teams is essential.
However, working efficiently in these types of teams cannot happen without the provision of
the right information. For this, transparency is crucial. Transparency can only be created by
documenting information in the right way. After all, adding value in a fast and efficient way is
only possible if everyone has direct access to the latest information.

‘’Visualization of information is an essential part in this matter’’,

says Arie van Bennekum, co-author of the Agile Manifesto and Agile thoughtleader at Wemanity.

He says:

‘’By definition, you get information directly from the source’’.

Hence, everything that is put between the source and the requestor of information creates noise.
Interpretations and assumptions play a role in any form of information transfer. This can be prevented
by verifying information at the source. In this article van Bennekum explains the concept of maintainable
and up to date visualizations for technical-, functional- and progress documentation.

Direct access to the latest information

In an organization which is truly agile, multidisciplinary teams are able to oversee and
implement the process from start to finish. Not only the implementation of developments is
important, but also being able to oversee the process (the content and status of the process
of the team) is crucial. Written documentation tucked away on a server takes extra time and
causes problems.

‘’People need to act to find the information and mistakes in interpretations,
assumptions or versions are easily made’’,

says van Bennekum.

Direct accessible information on the progress of the team is provided, if visualization is implemented in the
right way. With visualization, the process literally hangs on the wall and information is
continuously available, the so-called information radiators. With visualizations, you suddenly
have push information instead of pull information. There are two important reasons to use
information radiators:

  • 1 they save the teams time because there is a lot less information
    exchange needed and less time lost on redundant work and
  • 2 it gives accurate insight in
    the progress of the team.

 

‘’So lose the Excel sheets and Word documents as a standard’’,

says van Bennekum.

Away with time-consuming reports

Written progress reports are omnipresent in most companies. A lot of time is spilled on these
reports. Van Bennekum talks about managers who lose hours on the reports that are
discussed in meetings. He emphasizes that information needs to be documented
immediately when information is created by the teams’ process. By using visuals and
information radiators, less time needs to be spend on reports. This is because the
information is already clearly accessible in the ‘’team space’’. Excellent radiators display
everything that is necessary and up to date. Redundant works gets reduced to zero this way.

Visuals as a communication method

The risks of written documentation come from the fact that documents are often pluri-
interpretable and are mostly based on interpretations. Pollution of the information is always
the outcome. By sharing information as a team through information radiators, the chance of
interpretation differences will be ruled out. Direct feedback is possible with visuals, which
also will reduce the chance of mistakes and misunderstandings.
In addition, information radiators enable the teams to intervene more quickly when issues
need to be solved. Issues can be incidents or urgent changes, for example. According to van
Bennekum

‘’half of the lifecycle costs of an average IT-system are based on the fact that in
the initial phase, requirements weren’t well understood.’’

Companies can save millions the moment they are able to extract these mistakes or reduce the margin of error.
An advantage of visuals is that when something changes, it is immediately visible for the whole team. It
gives the team the opportunity to work faster with a higher quality. Eventually, it will create
the capability to react more rapidly to changes. Furthermore, being capable to react quick on
what the customer or environment asks, is the core of what people need in this fast-changing
world.

Applying visuals in an Agile environment

Still, a lot of Agile organizations aren’t working optimally and not all Agilists use information
radiators, says van Bennekum. Too often he sees the use of visuals being limited to neat flip
overs in workshops and sketch notes, but after that reports get written and system
documentation gets stored on servers in the cloud. Paradigms of the former method are
standing in the way; they form the reflexes in case of stress. When something gets in the
way, people usually go back to traditional routes instead of improving what matches the
current demand and reacts well to the demands of the customers or market. Written
documentation has been ingested and defines the standards too often, even if people think
they underwent an Agile transformation.
Working Agile does not mean that nothing gets documented, this is an often-occurring myth.
It happens in a different way. Van Bennekum says that there needs to be looked at

documentation from a value point of view, and that it requires a different definition within the
Agile context.

‘’Documentation is structured information that is up-to- date, accurate,
maintainable and highly accessible’’.

In this definition, nothing is mentioned about the information needing to be stored on a drive.

One Comment

  1. The best way to avoid this problem is for the team to be working on so few things at the same time that detailed documentation of any form is unnecessary. Even visualizations can be ambiguous, out-of-date, and delusional.

    The key is to limit WIP rather than invest more into any form of process documentation. A Scrum/Kanban board is quite sufficient.

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