Visualization and Agility
With a background in agile, bikablo trainers Andrea and Stefan from the bikablo core team have developed a new training called “bikablo Visual Agile”. In this interview, they share details about how they developed this new course, the relationship between visualization and agile, and who the training was designed for.
by Susann Figueredo Hechavarria
Visualization for the agile everyday life
Dear Andrea and Stefan, how did you come up with the idea to develop the “Visual Agile” training course?
Stefan: Agile work and visualization have always belonged together. For many years, we have offered a classroom training called “Visual Scrum”. Then Corona came along and we sat down and developed this online training based on the Visual Scrum material. In the process, we redesigned a few elements of the training. For example, we programmed simple visualization apps that we give to participants. Collaborative platforms such as Mural or Miro have been incorporated to help share participant work. Using the breakout feature in Zoom, we integrate small group and partner exercises. The focus of the training has also expanded, Visual Agile goes beyond just Scrum as we also wanted to appeal to people who are interested in agile working in a broader sense.
Andrea: In a home office, a small format is more practical than a flipchart, which is often not available at all. That’s why we teach visualization on a small scale so that participants can use it on a daily basis. Everything we teach is also transferable to digital drawing on a tablet. However, just to clarify, “Visual Agile” is not on iPad or tablet training.
How do visualization and agility fit together? What is the added value of combining these approaches?
Andrea: We are not the only ones using more and more collaboration tools like Mural or Miro. These collaboration boards quickly become confusing and busy. This is where visualization can help to provide structure and orientation to content to make it easy to understand. Through the strategic use of color, visual vocabulary and graphic elements the content becomes simple and clear.
Stefan: Strictly speaking, visualization has the advantage of structuring content versus traditional linear approaches as it breaks information into smaller chunks of text on the page and creates separation through the use of graphic elements. Every Scrum board, every backlog, every collection of post-its provides the “artifacts” of visualization. This approach is easy to understand as our brains are hardwired for visuals. And that’s what we continue to think about.
Andrea: Exactly! If we look at the Agile values and principles, we find terms like transparency, focus, review and adapt, openness, and respect. Visualization plays directly into this. Assumptions, knowledge, and ideas are made visible – that is, transparent with a pen. This transparency supports focus, especially in conversations that ask: where are we right now? What is the next step? At the same time, by making things visible, I can also go directly into the review process and ask, “Is that correct, as it is written here?” And if not, “How would we change it? Creative processes and idea generation can be supported by sketching. Visualization is already anchored in design thinking. Initial solution ideas are thought through with paper and pencil and checked for feasibility at an early stage. Visualization is also helpful indirectly: it promotes openness to explore new pathways by expressing thoughts on paper and thus contributing to a common understanding. Emotional situations from the customer’s point of view helps to understand where the pain or need lies. Recording all contributions in meetings and making them visible promotes respect among each other, because every voice is heard and contributions are captured.
What content is covered in the training?
Stefan: We teach a simple visual vocabulary in a very short time. We also share how to use color strategically and provide tips on how to improve your handwriting. We learn the bikablo-emotions figures and use them directly for telling stories. Much of this is done in “nutshell mode.” This means we provide a short input and then allow participants to explore different ways of applying this knowledge. We also provide templates and give examples for inspiration. At the end of each day is an application exercise. It’s important to note: the focus is not on spending a lot of time drawing representative pictures, we focus on what we call a “quick and dirty” approach to get results fast. When using visualization in conversations, our motto is always “the way is the goal”. Nevertheless, the visualizations that participants create in the training are clear and professional looking thanks to the visual building block principle of bikablo, which provides a simple methodology and framework for people to follow.
Andrea: The training itself is based on the agile approach on a meta level. That is, we work through the material in an iterative way. One iteration is half a day. We get the feedback after each iteration. So we can respond to the needs right away.
Stefan: And to keep enriching the training with new content, we invite an agile guest to each training to provide a short input as the icing on the cake. The focus will be on his or her view of agility and visualization against the backdrop of his or her individual expertise.
This all sounds really super exciting! How do I know that the training is right for me?
Andrea: You know this training is right for you when you experience one of the above challenges in your work environment and want to improve your communications through the use of a pen. This course will give you the skills to sketch solutions and capture ideas from your teams. If you are a Scrum Master or Coach, visualization can be a way to explain ideas and processes to stakeholders to create a common understanding. For Product Owners, visualization can help you map out the user journey in order to identify pain points and user needs. Through this training you will learn basic elements to build your visual vocabulary, and examples of how to apply visualization skills into your day-to-day work.
Stefan: I think the training is interesting for all stakeholders in the agile working environment. The training itself functions as a project that moves all stakeholders – participants and trainees – forward together. A fresh agile wind blows through all three days. Anyone who is curious about working in an agile way is welcome to participate and expand their skills in visualization and applying the agile methodology to their work!
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