Agile is messy. It is untidy; it clutters desks and dirties the walls. Progress is not hidden in spreadsheets and gant charts in Microsoft Project. No, it is on the wall.
Walls are central to agile. Indeed any visual thinking process that uses ‘information radiators’ as central to communicating information (rather than circulating documents) will make use of walls, sticking cards, posters, post-its, stuff up for all to see. When you start to use walls, good things happen. Other people become curious, they walk to wall, they look and see. When you have wireframes stuck to the walls they go arrrr! that’s what you are building! There is a palpable excitement, a buzz to organisations who start (and continue) to use walls.
That is, until the detractors come along with demands to tear down the wall.
These usally take one of three guises.
The first, predominantly found in financial services is compliance. Increasingly clear desk policies are being rigorously policed to ensure documents are not leaked between departments and this often finds its way onto the information radiators.
The second is facilities management who seem to think that their clean whitewashed walls are delivering greater value to the business than anything untidy that is stuck on them. Their knee-jerk reaction is to ban the use of blue-tack and get a whiteboard permanently drilled to the wall to hold the cards.
The third and final detractor is the IT manager who is dazzled by technology and insists on using technology to solve the problem. Out goes the card wall and in comes a plasma screen with an excel spreadsheet displaying the cards. This completely misses the point of the wall, of the human element. Richard Durnall tells the story of his experience at Ford where they employed a technology based process for managing inventory at the plant. “Unfortunately this process had a problem; it was rubbish.” He contrasts this tech-centric system for that employed by Toyota:
When the guy on the line started a new box of parts, he’d take a card off the top and put it into a letterbox. Every 10 minutes or so another guy would drive around in a little truck and collect up all the cards. He’d then go to an office where he had a card sorter connected to a computer. He’d put the cards through the sorter, which at the same time sent messages on usage to the supplier network, and then he’d go and fill up his truck based on the cards that he had, returning the cards to the boxes.
Managing inventory with cards. Using paper in a paperless office; not everybody gets it.
Knowing that you will have detractors to the paper walls is a first step in managing expectations and getting everybody on board. Talk to compliance, facilities, and let them know what you are doing. Ensure an executive sponsor can override any petty bureaucratic blockers.
And before you know it, the information radiators will have moved out of IT and into the way the business manages its tasks as well.