What Makes an Information Radiator Effective?

An information radiator is a concept that was introduced in agile methodologies. It is known as the most effective way to collaborate, keep information out in the open, and to increase efficiency and transparency. The goal for the use of this tool is to remove any obstacles to productivity and effective communication. But what is it about information radiators that make them effective? And how can you ensure that it stays effective?

What is an Information Radiator?

The term “information radiator” is used in agile organizations that refer to any printed, electronically produced, or handwritten displays on a visible location. It is like a bulletin board that is easily seen by those who pass by it. The goal is to make it easy to see information at a glance. This information can be anything that is relevant to your organization or projects at any given time – incident reports, project status, automated tests, and so on.

It is also commonly referred to as an “informative workspace” or “Big Visible Chart”. The concept originated in the 1980s when the idea of using “visual control” was introduced by Toyota. This is believed to be the earliest use of the “information radiator.” By the end of the 1990s, Kent Beck coined the term “Big Visible Chart.” The term “information radiator” was first used in 2001 after it was coined by Alistair Cockburn. He conceptualized the term based on the dispersion of heat and gas and used that as a metaphor for how easily information should flow within an organization. 

There are a few expected benefits to be gained from the implementation of this method in an agile work environment. Aside from the information itself, this method is designed to make information transparent to visitors (including customers and stakeholders) and the team involved (to make it easy to identify and address issues, if any). 

With the latter benefit, the purpose of using an “information radiator” is to make team members accountable. It also encourages rich conversations among stakeholders in order to promote useful ideas that will also benefit the organization. 

Now that you understand what an “information radiator” is and its expected benefits, the next step is to discover how to make it effective. As with any business tool, its ability to deliver results is only as good as how you use the tool. 

reasons why information radiators are so effective

Created by the Team for the Team

One of the main reasons why “information radiators” are so effective is that it is designed to custom fit the needs of your team. It is made by the team for the team. This means that all members of your team must help in putting it together to ensure that all areas are covered. If not, it turns out to be prescriptive. It should not be contrived by the leaders but rather those who are involved in a project to ensure accountability and transparency.

To make this possible, an information radiator must consist of a few basic elements. Again, these elements are not fixed but can be adjusted or customized to fit the objectives of the team. 

  • Calendar – This makes it easy for team members to see the schedule of events in the near future. It helps the team plan together for scrum ceremonies, sprints, and daily meetings. 
  • Backlog board – This is an important part of the information radiator as it orders the list of tasks based on the level of priority. The goal is to prioritize urgent tasks to avoid or limit backlogs.
  • WIP board – WIP means work in progress. It provides everyone in the team a status report of ongoing projects along with a storyboard that shows the flow of tasks. 
  • Team documents – This is detailed information on all of the essential documents needed by the team for the completion of WIP tasks. 
  • Obstacle board – This is where the team identifies potential roadblocks to progress for any of the ongoing tasks. The goal is to understand these obstacles in order to inhibit them from stalling the team’s progress. 

The Simplified Approach

The most important reason information radiators are so effective is their simplicity. The simpler the radiator is, the more effective it is. The complicated ones fail to fulfil their purpose of helping teams achieve better collaboration and workflow.

When making your information radiator, it should be simple enough that anyone not involved with your project should be able to easily grasp it. It’s a visual tool that is designed to encourage conversations and must be quick to review. If it is time-intensive, then it already becomes a roadblock to your own quest for progress. 

Moreover, an information radiator must only display the necessary information. Overly detailed ones can become a chore to use such that it ends up being ignored by the team. 

most important reason information radiators are so effective

Examples of Information Radiators

If you are keen to implement agile methodology in your organization, it is important to learn how to create your own information radiator. You do not need sophisticated software for this. You can create your own handmade information radiator displays such as a scrum board.

A scrum board is one of the best examples of information radiators that you can implement in your agile office. This is a tool that is designed to organize a scrum project and make progress visible to all members of a team. It can be a white board, or any type of board, with cue cards and sticky notes attached to it. The scrum board is divided into different columns to categorize projects as “In Progress,” “In Review,” and “Completed.” Each task is represented by the sticky notes and when they are done, they are moved to the corresponding column. This gives you a visual idea of your progress as a team. 

Other examples of information radiators are spring burndown charts for a development team and the agile software tools for those who prefer to manage team projects using digital tools. Whether you choose to implement this approach to managing agile teams using a traditional (handmade) approach or using digital software, the approach and purpose remain the same.