Visualization in agile development

Agile software development is great. There are loads of articles and books on how to be successfully agile. Visualizing your work is an essential part in agile development methodologies.

Why visualizing?

“The Zeigarnik effect finds that recall or memory of a task occurs more readily when the task is incomplete or interrupted (Zeigarnik, 1938).”

The Zairgarnic effect is known to serve as motivator as people tend to complete unfinished tasks. As unfinished tasks creates anxiety when trying to focus on something else, the Zaigarnic effect will result in a higher probability to get a task done once started [1]. Intrusive thoughts about the unfinished tasks require productivity. Working in a focused period of time and avoiding multi-tasking (and disruptions) at the same time is an important factor for productivity. Visualizing your work on a board, shows how focused (number of tasks in progress) you are. Furthermore, the Zairganic effect takes place as soon as a task is moved from “To Do” to “In Progress”.

Creating meaningful images

When choosing a visualization technique try to choose one that engage the brain in better understanding ideas. Meaningful images help understanding words and connections. According to Tim Wujec meaningful images are created by considering three components [2]:

“First, use images to clarify what we’re trying to communicate. Secondly make those images interactive so that we engage much more fully. And the third is to augment memory by creating a visual persistence.”

Clarifying images is achieved by creating small and meaningful User Stories and (sub)tasks. By shifting those tasks within the agile board, those images are made interactive. Persistency is created by using an agile board and especially by using that board every day. A physical board is thereby more present than a virtual one.

Use a physical board

The bigger the team the higher the necessity of a physical board. The committed tasks within an iteration/ single development cycle grow with the number of team members. Using a big wall to display all tasks for an iteration is much better than scrolling up and down in a virtual board during your ‘Daily’.

Bad User Stories

Sometimes User Stories are not well defined. So what If your user story is dragged (to whatever reason) from one iteration to another? If there is nearly no progress in your overall iteration then there is something seriously wrong. Therefore mark the according story. For example, place a big dot on the printed user Story for each iteration that has been exceeded. Or use Lego Bricks! For each exceeded iteration place a Lego brick on top of the story .

sb-1Figure 1: Using Lego Bricks for visualization [3]

Or consider making a video of the agile board for serval iterations. Catch every movement within your board and speed the video up. Even when speeding the video of the whole iteration up the cards will not move fast nor fully to “Done”. Make the bas situation visible.

Time Pressure

Time is precious. In some software projects serval user stories have to be done in a short time. Due to time pressure, some tend to neglect testing (unfortunately). The software will have bugs. How to make the effects of time pressure visible? Take a big wall and create a column for each iteration. Represent each card that has been signed off every iteration by a specific card color (for example: bug= red, feature= blue …). Group the cards to the according sprint. The progress over time can be seen easily. Especially projects with time pressures can show easily how they started to build new features. However, over the iterations they are facing a big number of bugs with nearly no time implementing any new features. This technique is called “card equalizer”. It is also a good hack to make use of your old cards instead of tearing them up [4].

sb-2Figure 2: Using Card Equalizer as your visualization technique [4]

Looking for a good visualization technique for your agile team? Fiona and Nick created “a place where agile teams can come and see examples of board hacks which address specific problems in a team”. You should check their blog It is full of great examples, Do’s & Don’ts, and lots of advice. I had the chance to listen to a talk held by Nick. It was an awesome talk. So do not miss your opportunity if you have the chance to attend.

[1] Alina Vrabie (2013): The Zeigarnik effect: the scientific key to better work in:
[2] Tim Wujec (2009): Three ways the brain creates meaning (Ted Talk) in:
[3] Fiona (2015): Lego Board in:
[4] Nich Thorpe (2011): Card Equalizer in:

Recommended books
David Allen (2015): Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity
Edward R Tufte (2001): Visual Display of Quantitative Information


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