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Visualizing Agile Projects with Kanban Boards

Kenji Hiranabe is CEO of ChangeVision and can be contacted at [email protected]

Extreme Programming (XP) has a practice called "informative workspace" where you can see how the project is going on at a glance. A primitive way of doing this is just putting story cards or task cards on the wall. Other graphs and charts on the wall are sometimes called "information radiators" or "Visible Big Charts" and have became common in today's agile project rooms. In this article, I present examples of the visualization found in agile teams in Japan.

The first example in Figure 1 is a Task Kanban Board named after Just-In-Time production method in Toyota Production System (TPS).

Figure 1: Task Kanban board.

A Kanban is a ticket describing a task to do. In TPS, it is used to realize Just-In-Time "pull" production control. In Figure 1, the Kanban Board shows the current status of all the tasks to be done within this iteration. The tasks are represented by cards (Post-It Notes). Status is presented by areas on the board separated and named ToDo, Doing, and Done. This Kanban Board helps team understand how they are doing, as well as what to do next. This helps make the team self-directing.

Figure 2 is another type of Kanban Board, called "Feature Kanban Board."

Figure 2: Feature Kanban board.

The horizontal axis of this chart is a timeline and vertical areas in the timeline represent releases. Each card posted represents one feature to be implemented in the release. Contrary to the first example which is usually used within development teams, this Feature Kanban provides a high-level overview of the product's road map so it should be shared with the whole team -- including customers, marketing staff, and managements.

Also, a "Parking Lot Chart" like Figure 3 is used to provide a top-level digested summary of project status. It is first described in Feature-Driven Development and is widely used in agile projects today.

Figure 3: Parking Lot Chart.

Figure 4 is another type of visualization -- the "Burndown Chart".

Figure 4: Task Burndown chart.

Burndown charts were first described in SCRUM to show remaining backlogs. They've now spread to most agile projects. They've captured the current status as well as the progress of consuming the remaining tasks.

The last interesting visualization (Figure 5) is called "Niko-niko Calendar" (or "Smiley Calendar") and was born in Japan. Niko-niko Calendars show a team member's mood for that day.

Figure 5: Niko-niko Calendar (or Smiley Calendar)

Everyone puts a Smiley mark onto a calendar after the day's work, before leaving the team room. It looks at the project from member's mental health and motivation viewpoint.

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