Secret sauce

Why visual tools enhance collaboration in your teams


Collaborative skills can make or break an agile team – Jayathirtha R Rao shows us how big visual charts (BVCs) can help.

Roughly a billion experts in behavioral
sciences, not to mention every Scrum/Agile coach in the world – has
probably drummed out the same message by now – team collaboration
is the secret sauce for Agile teams.

But what is the secret sauce that can actually
drive collaboration? In this article, originally published in
, Jayathirtha R Rao looks at the concept of Big Visible
Charts (BVC) and how they can help your team.

Why have a chart at all?

Because people need to know.

Projects have a lot of stakeholders. And project
status reports are meant for the sponsors, project managers and
senior leadership more often than the delivery teams. Even if these
are distributed to everyone, chances are that they do not make too
much sense to the people in the team. So if a regular report does
not work for the team, what does?

Teams need to understand how they are progressing and
who needs help or can give help around the team. From a different
perspective, the “feel” for the collaboration comes from the daily
standup, but the team does not have any objective data to take
decisions if they only rely on the standup. BVCs fill this gap.

What should you put on the chart(s)?

Is there anything you want to share with the team?
Anything you worry about while you work? Impediments that seem to
recur? Progress on acceptance tests? Defects that are slowing you

Some examples:

  1.  Open defects by day

  2.  Acceptance of features by day

  3.  Open queries and change requests v/s

  4.  Burndown or burnup chart.

  5.  Tests designed v/s executed to show you if
    you are keeping pace

  6.  Successful builds versus failed

  7.  Number of interruptions per

Anything that allows the team to see the patterns that
otherwise get drowned out in day to day work is a candidate for
being put up in a BVC. However, make sure you ask the team what
they want to keep an eye on.

How detailed should the BVCs be?

Ideally enough to show patterns to the team so they
can figure out what to do. Not more. Too much detail in the charts
leads to analysis by pure numbers, not utilizing the feel and
inherent capabilities of the team to advantages.

And yes, BVCs are impartial. You can see both the good
and the bad news as it happens. Charts can stay around as
supporting the team, but when a good or a bad pattern emerges, it
can help the team make a decision on what to do to move ahead.

Also, BVCs are a good way to bring focus to the major
impediments during the retrospective. Going back to the root causes
is easier when you have a clear starting point.

Simply going into a project area should give you
plenty of ideas about the project progress if you use BVCs as
information radiators.

Hand done versus electronic BVCs

A lot of tools today have features where you can
create all sorts of charts based on the data the team is putting
in. So why not just use those? Well, there are advantages to hand
done BVCs

  1.  It encourages team participation in
    updating the charts manually, pushing the case for ownership and

  2.  Hand drawn BVCs are typically put up next
    to all the other post-its – and the team uses this area the most.
    So, it gets the team the data they want, without any interference
    from outsiders. Putting it up electronically leads to more and more
    stakeholders looking at it and asking questions – making the BVC
    more likely to become an impediment for the team.

  3.  You can add quick notes on hand drawn
    charts – not so easy to do in the electronic copies.

  4.  They just look and feel better than an
    electronic one !

Beyond the team

As the manager for multiple delivery teams myself, I
often find myself in a position where I wish I could understand a
bit more of the details as the team goes about executing. Attending
the standups is one way of doing this, but it is always a
distraction and interferes with the flow for the team.

Much easier to look at the BVCs which give a clear
idea of how the team is doing. That aside, understanding the
pattern may sometimes raise questions along the lines of “Why did
we stop working on this story for three days?” or “Are query
resolutions really taking that long? Maybe I should take that up to
ensure we can close those questions quicker”. BVCs may get your
managers involved in helping the team – in the way they should.

Jayathirtha has worked in a variety roles as pre-sales consultant, project manager, ScrumMaster, program manager and delivery manager in a career spanning 14 years. He has worked in multiple domains managing delivery for supply chain, manufacturing, telecom and insurance projects.
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