THE POWER OF VISIBILITY – Holly Foster Media

THE POWER OF VISIBILITY

As a manager, I have practiced Agile project management in one way or another throughout my career and I can personally attest that it is a powerful way to foster the delivery of high-quality projects.

There’s a lot of information about the Agile approach, but let’s break it down to a basic definition, courtesy of Andrew Conrad’s recent blog. “Agile project management is an iterative development methodology that values human communication and feedback, adapting to changes, and producing working results” (2018).

When the Agile method is used, projects are broken down into tasks that are tracked on a physical display placed near the development team.

I have always been drawn to the “smash the watermelon” approach of breaking a project into smaller tasks. Unfortunately, however, my attempts at tracking projects have been less than effective; that is until about three months ago when I discovered Kanban.

In Japanese, Kanban means signboard or billboard. It is a visual scheduling system that “takes its name from the cards that track production within a factory” and was developed by Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota (Kanban).

About three months ago I implemented Kanban within my team using a whiteboard and multi-colored post-it notes – a different color was assigned to each member of the team. We divided the whiteboard into three columns: TO DO, DOING, and DONE. When new tasks are assigned, the responsible team member uses their colored post-it note to jot down a brief description of the task along with the project name. The note is then attached to the board and moved across the columns as the work progresses toward completion.

Kanban makes the work visible.

Following another form of Agile project management called SCRUM, we recently began a new ritual we call the “Monday Morning Roundup.” Every Monday we have a brief early morning team meeting to discuss and determine the priority of current project tasks. The priorities are recorded by hand and then placed in a spreadsheet that is e-mailed to each team member. A hard copy of the spreadsheet is also delivered to their desk. Any changes in priorities are reported to the supervisor and relayed to the team members as needed.

The weekly priority list that results from the roundup meeting is another visibility tool. Together, the whiteboard and the paper priority list provide the clarity that is needed to perform the highest quality work in the shortest period of time. It also protects against duplication of effort because everyone knows what everyone else is working on.

Visualization increases collaboration. Once things are visible it becomes a lot easier to work together on something. – Ben Linders (2017)

I don’t have a whiteboard at home, but I do use web-based project management software. While researching a tool to organize my graduate work, I explored three free-to-use packages: Asana, Trello, and Podio. After a bit of experimentation, I found the Trello interface to be colorful and easy to use, feeding my desire for visibility.

Trello uses three levels for your organization: boards, lists, and cards. Sounds like Kanban, right? Actually, it can be used in a very similar way and it’s a great tool to help you organize and schedule your personal tasks.

Here’s a final example of the power of visibility, albeit in a different form. In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport recounts a story told to him by Brad Isaac, a writer and comic. Isaac was working an open mic night and had an encounter with Jerry Seinfeld, who was busy juggling his stand-up career and his new network show. Isaac asked Seinfeld if he could give him any tips. Seinfeld obliged. At that time, Seinfeld’s personal goal was to write a joke every day. Seinfeld told Isacc that “The way to be a better comic was to create better jokes,” and “the way to create better jokes was to write every day.” When Seinfeld wrote a joke he marked the date by placing a red X on his wall calendar. The calendar served as a visual reminder to pursue his goal daily (Newport, 2016, p. 110-111).

“According to the Project Management Institute, more than 70% of organizations have incorporated some Agile approaches” (Conrad, 2018). Regardless of the approach you choose, be sure to consider the potency of visual tracking methods for yourself or your team.

“When you visualize, then you materialize.” – Denis Waitley

until nxt time …

If you’d like to learn more about SCRUM, check out this YouTube video of a Tedx talk given by organizational expert Jeff Sutherland. Sutherland was one of the seventeen people who worked together to write the Agile Manifesto in 2001.

References

Beck, K., Beedle, M., van Bennekum, A., Cockburn, A., Cunningham, W., Fowler, M., Grenning, J., Highsmith, J., Hunt, A., Jeffries, R., Kern, J., Marick, B., Martin, R., Mellor, S., Schwaber, K., Sutherland, J. and Thomas, D. (2001). Manifesto for Agile Software Development. Retrieved from http://agilemanifesto.org/

Conrad, A. (2018, April 27). What exactly is agile? A definition of Agile Project Management. [Blog post]. Retrieved from  https://blog.capterra.com/definition-of-agile-project-management/

Linders, B. (2017, March 7). Agile Practice: Visualization. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.benlinders.com/2017/agile-practice-visualization/

Newport, C. (2016). Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.

TEDx Talks. (2014, July 7). Scrum: How to do twice as much in half the time | Jeff Sutherland | TEDxAix.[Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4thQcgLCqk

Wikipedia contributors. (2019, February 16). KanBan. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban

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