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How to Radiate Information Across the Globe

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The World

It’s 7:15 a.m. in Colorado and I’ve just come home from the gym, walking the dog and eating a high-protein breakfast of bacon and eggs. After pouring some coffee, I check-in on my team.

Our fearless team leader Thanh just moved from LA to Austin… we’re now the only two of six full-time Asian Efficiency team members who are in the same timezone.  He’s an early riser like me, so he’ll have been hard at work for hours.

In Thailand, Aaron has just wrapped up his day and released a set of updates to OmniFocus Premium Post.

Our develop/tech genius, Dylan, is a night owl and won’t be up for another 4 or 5 hours from his central timezone in Saint Louis.

Banri, our newest team member from Sydney, will be fast asleep after a day of data analysis and conversion hacking. And considering it is 9pm in the Philippines, Marie will be clocked out for the day unless she decides to work the night shift. In that case, she’ll be starting her work answering customer support emails and updating our social media pages.

It’s pretty cool to be on a team that is distributed across the globe. And being Asian Efficiency, we’ve got some ninja systems that make it all work. We will be releasing how it’s all done in dribs and drabs on the blog.

Here’s the first drib.

It’s an important project management concept that we and other teams use to produce the best results in the most efficient, intelligent manner.

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” ~ Michael Jordan

The concept is used in Agile development. And here at Asian Efficiency, we use a particular style called SCRUM.

Scrum stands on thee basic pillars: transparency, inspection and adaptation.

Agile Scrum Pillars

image from The Elements of Scrum by Chris Sims

How We “Radiate” Project Information

“Information radiators” are tools that allow our team to live up to Scrum’s three ideals. More specifically, information radiators are large graphical charts that display important project information. The radiators are used by Agile development teams and are always kept in plain sight – usually in a shared workspace.

Information radiators are different than project plans, mission statements or business manuals and require specific criteria to be effective.

Effective Information Radiators Must Be:

Highly visible

Agile teams post their very big charts where they can be in their field of vision all day, every day, soaking deep into your reptilian brain and keeping your whole team “on the same page.” This allows the team to focus on what is really important and promotes transparency and open communication.

Casual

Rather than squeezing your project outlines into some well-edited report or Powerpoint, they are put on a large chart on which sticky notes, colored pencils, tape, etc. Info radiators are kept casual so team members can create information that is: accessible, disposable and non-precious. This will encourage participation and more experimentation with the data to find solutions that solve real problems

Big

With information radiators, size does matter. The bigger the better. The very big posters or dry erase boards will draw more people in and allow space for all of the information to be clear and easy to understand.

Information radiator

crazy information radiator example

The above “radiator” has a lot going on. More than could be covered in one blog post. So we will focus on one particular type of information radiator we use most often at Asian Efficiency.

It is called a kanban board.

Editor’s Note: Agile/SCRUM purists may note that in SCRUM there’s technically separate information radiators called the Product Backlog, the Sprint Backlog and the Work Board – that’s what we’re talking about here.

Kanban is Japanese for “sign board.” And it is just that.

Our kanban board is full of “cards” that describe tasks that need to be done. The tasks are clearly described with a story which tells who, what and why we are doing a particular task. The card also details acceptance criteria that lets us know when a particular task is done.

An example would be:

Kanban Card

Kanban boards help teams visualize their work flow. A typical journey for a kanban card would be To Do > Doing > Done.

Trello kanban

Planning a birthday party with kanban

This simplified kanban can be a great system for an individual. However, we’ve added a few more sections to make teamwork a bit easier.

Annotated Sprint Board

Example Asian Efficiency kanban style information radiator

The sections we use are:

  • Backlog. Tasks that need to be done, but not right now.
  • To Do (Wk 22-23). Tasks we want to get done in the following two weeks.
  • Doing (In Progress). Tasks a particular team member is working on – when we stop working on the task, we put the card either back in “To Do” or put it in “To Be Reviewed”.
  • To Be Reviewed. Tasks that need to be reviewed by another team member – no more than 2 cards should be in this column. (This is to prevent bottlenecks. One thing that is 100% done and released – to our customers – is better than five things that are 90% done and not released.)
  • Done. Yay! The issue has been reviewed and it (blog post, email, video, premium content) is ready to be released into the wild.
  • Cancelled. Task is no longer relevant or has been covered in another area so we put it in the cancelled bin.

Kanban Pro Tips:

  • Use different color pens or notecards for different projects or categories.
  • Analyze how you work (Inspect and Adapt v. Plan and Execute)
    • what tasks are you more likely to get done?
    • are you working on your most important tasks?
    • are urgent things making the board?
  • Add a vision statement to your project that describes the world you are trying to make.
  • Order your “To Do”  items from most to least important.

To Recap

Agile development is a project development methodology. In it, “information radiators” – large physical charts that display your project’s vital information – such as kanban boards help teams create an environment where there is constant planning and iterating.

The transparency of information radiators also allows continuous learning and above average results.

Wait a minute… none of you live in the same place! So just how does Asian Efficiency use big, shared, visible information radiators?

For that question – young grasshopper – I say, to be continued…

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6 Comments

Posted by Karen Christensen  | September 5, 2018 at 1:28PM | Reply

Sharing the big picture is a challenge for our global team. I like the idea of information radiators for all the reasons you give here. But how to create that kind of board – I think of it as a dashboard for everything we do – on the web. Trello doesn’t do it. Microsoft Teams doesn’t do it. The last line of this post promised to answer the question, “So just how does Asian Efficiency use big, shared, visible information radiators?” but I haven’t found the rest of this story. Best, Karen.

Posted by Neno  | August 23, 2014 at 2:32PM | Reply

Hi Zachary,

Nice post. One thing I noticed is that people react very well on visual data. Unfortunately this is often overlooked in big organizations. Meetings are much more efficient when you ask your team to actually draw what they need to do.

Do you have some examples of online information radiators for dislocated teams?

Posted by Zachary Sexton  | August 29, 2014 at 11:07PM

The ones that I am familiar with are: Podio, Trello and Asana. I liked Trello and Asana, but thought Podio was a little clunky (but more customizable).

Also, I just Googled “team kanban boards” and a ton of results came up: leankit.com, kanbantool.com, kanbanflow.com…

I bet you can find something that you and your team find visually pleasing.

Posted by Sailesh  | August 22, 2014 at 4:46PM | Reply

Let me guess, is it Trello? :)

Posted by Thanh Pham  | August 22, 2014 at 9:15PM

No :)

Posted by blake  | September 9, 2014 at 10:37AM

If not Trello, what are you using?

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