Home > Agile > The case for visualization of progress

The case for visualization of progress

Imagine a sailing boat with four guys onboard. They are all franticly working to make it to harbor. But they don’t have a map and they don’t have a compass. Can you imagine this scene?

And yet, this situation is not that different from the situation in which many software development teams are in today. Independent of software development or project method, many teams lack one or many of the following:

  • A map which shows where they are
  • A map which shows where they are heading
  • A GPS which shows how they are progressing

Some teams have these tools but don’t update them that often. I’ve worked with projects where developers reported once a month. You can just imagine how long it took to act on a problem…

In order to act, you need to have quick and accurate updates – what is sometimes more dangerous than a map is a map which shows the wrong location (of you or the target) and if the update is a week old, chances are great that you act on the wrong stuff.

Besides having status updated, you need to keep it visual: a GPS or map is of no good kept in the pocket. If you don’t see the problems, you will still miss out opportunities to act on problems and also; if the status is displayed for everyone to see; chances are bigger that people will update their stuff to avoid questions.

My husband is now working on a digital tool to visualize progress. It’s built as a WPF application and is now based on Team Foundation Server (to visualize work items) but hopefully he will also include support for other data sources.


This pet project of his is called Virtual WIP (you guys into TOC or lean will probably get the word game) is very interesting and I hope to be able to implement this in an upcoming project. I guess many of you prefer analog tools, but working in an international organization, I need visualization which works long distance.


His building of this application has gotten me (and him of course) thinking a lot about what you need in order to get us what sailors get from their maps and GPS:s. What would you need? If you have ideas, post them here or on Hakan’s blog.

Categories: Agile
  1. mostofa
    2010/09/04 at 11:27 pm

    Firstly don’t you have the project Dashboard which shows the graph of the team progress and this coupled with milestones really help in showing where you stand .

    Of course having frequent sneak peeks with the PO helps the PO understand where the team is in delivering the product but I am not sure how you can show that in a visual form .

    • Anna Forss
      2010/09/05 at 7:07 am

      Yes! That is true that this is what you need too! But not all teams apply visualization. There is also a need for long term (project level) progress visualization and short term (sprint) progress visualization. Hakan’s project aim at the short term progress.

  2. 2010/09/05 at 6:31 pm

    Visual WIP is aimed to make the flow of work visible and visual. Making the flow of work visual gives you an instance feel where there are potential problems in the work flow. When information is stored in digital systems and are not made visible and visual you don’t get that instance feel without consciously looking for that information.

    Project Dashboards will show you the overall status as lagging indicators. A Kanban board will show you the status of the flow of work with leading indicators. This gives the opportunity act upon problem as they occur instead of after the fact.

  3. mostofa
    2010/09/08 at 5:05 pm


    I am still quite new to Kanban and need to read up a lot more on it .

    But it would be nice perhaps to add some colors to indicate a story that is taking more time than expected . So that could turn red to indicate that something has gone wrong here. But I am also thinking that since you have limited the WIP to 2 so unless the developer moves a story to the next step he cannot take up a new story. This will eliminate the need for colors . Maybe you could add expected time to finish the story and time taken so far .

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