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This is my recount of my session at Agile 2009 Chicago. It was titled “Visual Management for Agile Teams” and was part of the Manifesting Agility stage.

VMW Agile 2009

The session went well, around 36 people came and left 27 session reviews. Many people found value in the practical, down-to-earth approach of the workshop, leaving comments such as “excellent hands-on demo”, “extremely applicable information”, “finally something hands-on practical” and “very helpful”. Review averages were: Met expectations 4.4/5; Would recommend 4.3/5; Presentation skills 4.1/5; Command of topic 4.6/5; Matched description 4.4/5 and Overall 4.4/5.

I changed the format and structure of the session a little bit. First I gave a short presentation to introduce the topic. I was nervous and it showed… I’ll do better next time. We quickly moved on to starting the workshop itself. Each team was given a bag of office supplies and a blank taskboard. They set themselves up around a table.


The format of the workshop is simple: teams have to build taskboards, following some guidelines such as “the boards must show who is working on what”. The first round gave teams 20 minutes to figure out what they were going to do and how to implement it. Here is the red team getting busy:


The blue team had a good idea: they did a rapid prototype on a paper on the wall, and only after that started building their taskboard.

Visual Management Workshop at Agile 2009

More taskboard building:


After a first round of taskboard building, people spread out to review other team’s boards.


Some stayed behind to present and defend their boards…


Finally, we did another round of taskboard improvement with new requirements, and another review session. To close, I presented my own version of the taskboard that I had built the night before in the hotel room.



These are the final taskboards of all four participating teams, with comments.  Click through to see a larger version of each taskboard. My comments are meant to show how each team approached a certain problem, the idea is to point out to the reader the different ideas that emerged.

Blue team


  • They found and put up some team pictures. They used them to assign a color to each member and used colors as nametags. The only problem with this is that with a larger team you will run out of colors.
  • They created an “URGENT” swimlane for expedited work. It is clearly distinguishable with a different color tape and a header. It is at the bottom, but they said during the workshop that if they would have had more time, they would have refactored their taskboard and put it at the top. Very good solution.
  • They used red stars to indicate all impediments. I’m not so sure I would use this, as stars connote something good to me. But you can certainly see impediments clearly.
  • They re-wrote their story cards in big blue post-it’s; other teams simply stuck up the printed stories.
  • They put columns for “QA” and “Done Today”.  In the QA column there is a single small yellow post-it that says “BUG”. No idea where the bug is though.
  • Each story has tasks of a different color. There does not seem to be any significance to this other than visually pointing out that tasks belong to different stories.

Red Team


  • They put their project backlog on the leftmost column. From there, they can “pull” stories into the Sprint backlog. When an urgent story came in, they placed it on top.
  • They have a column “WIP Blocked” and next to it “WIP”. Another column is called “Done today”.
  • They have a calendar that shows at what moment during the week they have Planning, Retrospective and Release. This allows me to see that they do 1-week iterations.
  • They used different colored post-its to indicate different types of specialist work. This is a very good idea (where it makes sense). In the bottom right hand corner is the color legend.
  • They did not use the red electrical tape to make their swimlanes, instead opting to go for a blue masking tape. This makes it harder to identify them as the red team.

Yellow team


  • I like how this team kept their board “clean”, in comparison with other teams. Also, they put the most effort into making sure their swimlanes were tidy.
  • They have only 3 columns, yellow post-its and few elements, keeping the board clean and uncluttered. It is much more relaxing to look at.
  • They used red stars as nametags. Each star has the name of a team member written on it.
  • They used small green post-its as “DONE” tags. They put their DONE tasks on the Complete column, so during the daily standup all they will do is remove the green tag I assume.
  • They move finished stories to the 3rd column together with all the tags. For some reason, they finished the least priority story first. They seem to be working on everything at the same time.
  • Pink post-its indicate a special situation is happening with that task.

Green team


  • The first thing you notice is that this team opted for no horizontal swimlanes. This makes the board lighter and cleaner, but might cause confusion as to where tasks belong. To compensate, they gave each story different colored tasks as we saw the Blue team did before. This is an interesting design alternative to consider.
  • Another original idea is the use of Post-it flags as status indicators with a clear legend on the lower right hand corner. Some examples include “defect found”, “retest”, “urgent” and “blocked”. This is the first time I see it and I want to say that it is an interesting idea. The Post-it flags are unobtrusive and easy to detach. I will add Post-it flags to the Elements of Taskboard Design page.
  • They also have the Product backlog on the left-hand column and pull stories into their WIP backlog like the Red team.

Xavier’s board


For completeness, here is my board. The only new thing if you follow my blog is that I decided to use pink post-its instead of yellow post-its for normal tasks, simply for effect. But I didn’t find any value in it and actually the pink color is too noisy. So I will definitively stick to yellow (there are economic reasons for using yellow for tasks too – yellow super stickies are cheaper)


I want to thank all participants for coming to my session. I think the session was a success, and each team left me with new ideas and lessons learned.

  • From the Blue Team, I learned I can create a priority swimlane which is visually clear.
  • From the Red Team, I learned to use colors to indicate the nature of work. This could be used to visually identify the need for more specialists for example.
  • From the Yellow Team, I learned the value of keeping it simple and clean. Overloading your board with elements and colors creates visual saturation and is tiresome to the sight.
  • From the Green Team, I learned to use Post-it flags as status tags. They are small, elegant and unobtrusive.

I also wish to thank the following friends who helped me out: Mark Levison for all the advice before and during the conference, Karl Scotland for helping me during the session and for motivating me, Dan Mezick, stage producer, who came to visit during the session and seemed to really care about the quality of his stage; Tobias Mayer for always supporting me; and above all my sweetheart Joke Vandemaele without whom I would not be able to do any of this.

Thanks to you all!

PS: If you missed this session and would like to attend, I will be doing a short version of it at the Agile Eastern European Conference in Kiev next week. Registration for the conference is still open!


It will also be presented at Agiles 2009 in Florianópolis and at XP Days Benelux 2009. See you there!

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The flagship conference of the Agile community has come and gone. I had a great time and I’d like to post a short account of my trip with some pictures. I will later follow up with a post specifically on my Visual Management session.


We arrived with Joke a couple of days early in order to visit the city before the conference. Chicago is an amazing city with an incredible skyline full of modern buildings. I especially love that red one!


We got a room on the 30th floor with a great view. I particularly liked it by night.


We walked to the Millenium Park near the hotel where they have this really cool “thing”


Then we rented bicycles…


and biked around the park area. This fountain is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen!


Apparently Segways are not as unpopular as one would think; especially with tourists.


Segway invasion! They even have pink ones.


We then went to the aquarium. Joke wanted to see and hear a Beluga whale while she’s pregnant. She got what she wanted. This guy kept coming out of the water and I caught him smiling at us:


The Shedd Aquarium is really nice. I would recommend it even to people without kids.


Watcha staring at? Never seen an ugly fish?


Or a smart one? The legend says this guy knows TDD and refactoring…


They have the oldest fish in captivity in the world. This guy was brought into the aquarium in 1933! It’s a lungfish, an ancient beast that actually has lungs asides from gills.


But of course the cutest of them all are the little Nemos swimming in the coral reef:


The next day we went to visit the work of reknown american architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park.


And we did a tour in his old house and study. They didn’t allow pictures of the inside though :(


Ok, enough about fish and architecture. On to the conference.

The conference

This was my second Agile 200x and my first time presenting. Considering the crisis this year, I think both the organizers and us (as in “the community”) did a pretty good job of keeping our flagship conference healthy. More than 1350 people passed by the registration desk in an orderly manner…


and enjoyed well delivered keynotes from Jared Spool and Alistair Cockburn


A couple of visual management good ideas. Every day the conference program was presented in these big panels (that I later used for my session :) )


And individual rooms had a sign outside announcing the day’s sessions:


The printed program was also much better organized than last year (it was actually usable!) and the badges were the same as last year, very readable and of the non-reversible type. They also had RFID as a novelty.


Open jam was the place to hang out if you were into networking or just wanted to sleep. And even though it never works well in ths type of conference, there were still a couple of good open space sessions.


What didn’t go well?

Well, the food was where the organization decided to cut corners in order to meet the budget, something I don’t approve of. And Programming with the Stars suffered from a lack of public, because of where the actual competition took place (extremely far from where the food was, compared to last year). Still, the sign was great!


Gordon Pask Award

07/Sep/2009 Update: This section is new, the original post has been edited. I had expressed some pre-judgements regarding the award that I wish to retract. I have re-written this part of the post based on feedback and information I received and researched. Let’s keep the award and the community healthy.

This year the first Gordon Pask Award was given to somewhat less prominent figures of the agile community (compared to previous years). As JB Rainsberger, member of the award commitee explains: “We awarded the Pask to Simon and Gus […] as an attempt to live up better to the stated purpose of the award: to shine a light on those great practitioners in the field who have something special to share and need exposure to do exactly that.”

Congratulations to the “no compromise, no excuses” zealots Simon Baker and Gus Power from the UK! They sound like people with high quality standards, something I appreciate. You can read their reaction over winning the award in their blog.

The second award went to renown and groovy David Hussman, who BTW is coming to the Ágiles 2009 conference together with previous award winner Naresh Jain this fall. Congrats to David who certainly deserves it!

Let’s start betting on who gets it next year…

Agile Alliance Board

The big surprise of the conference for me was that Cesar Idrovo, with a spectacular political campaign, managed to get elected to the Agile Alliance board! Kudos to him and I hope he gets to do lots of good work there.  I will certainly be supporting and helping him (Cesar is also Latin American / European like me). Also congratulations to Henrik Kniberg for getting elected.

All in all it was another great conference. Almost as good as Toronto last year. I met and re-met lots of friends and community leaders from around the world. There were some great sessions, and I think everybody was generally satisfied with the event.

See you in Nashville next year!

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