Visual Status

Problem: How can you motivate people to keep their energy high enough to solve a problem in time?

Suggestion: Create a visual status indicator, one that shows how you are doing and gives an indication of what is better or needed.


I think I encountered something like this first in the OneMinuteManager? (if it wasn't there and someone else has read this, I thank you for the proper source). He used the delightful example there of a factory and a total jerk for a foreman, whom the workers couldn't stand. He told the foreman to post up how many widgets each shift did on a large number stuck on a post. The workers told him to get out of their way, but what happened was the night shift saw the number and bettered it, and then the day shift saw the number and bettered it, and a friendly competition grew between the day and night shifts - and it had nothing to do with the foreman MakingFriendsAndInfluencingPeople?. I now see it as a simple example of VisualStatus.


Another example continued here from EarlyAndOften... We were moving, and needed to pack 17 rooms up in about 24 days, and it was clear to me, but not to my wife, that at the rate we were working, we would not make it. I made a list of the rooms and their packing dates, but we missed those dates completely and my wife still had no sense of urgency.

I made a little graph with 24 days counting down to 0 and 17 rooms (X- and Y-, respectively), and drew a line from 17 rooms, 24 days left high up on the Y-axis, down to 0 rooms, 0 days left way on the right on the X-axis, a straight line connecting the two. That was our desired schedule, almost a room a day. Then I plotted our progress on the chart.

Needless to say, the actual progress line was way above the schedule line. What was important was that it clear clear to the most casual observer how far behind we were, and what we needed to do to get done in time. This actually worked, and I am happy to say we completed the last room on the last day. The chart helped us see when we had to work like dogs to catch up a bit, and then it showed when we were relaxing too much. It made me a real fan of VisualStatus.

I have evidently always been a fan of VisualStatus, but I attended a course where they talked about it explicitly, and since then I have been seeing more examples of it around.

There is something about a visual status, correctly done, which draws you toward the anticipated and desired result. It draws your energy forward, in a manner reminiscent of PositiveCommands (perhaps one reason I like it).

cheers, AlistairCockburn

Another example: A relative of mine is a director for a number of companies in the USA. One of these companies makes cooking oils and he related to me a story about how computing change production at one of their plants. Now it seems the bright folks in the data processing dropped a PC on the plant managers desk and put a real time display of gallons of cooking oil produced per minute. So one morning he noticed the graph was doing something odd. It would start high, lots of production, drip down for the morning, then go way up for the afternoon. Looking at the daily reports he calulated that the average production per day match the mean of the graph, but why the dip?

Turned out the operations staff had a morning card game each day and let production fall off, then the afternoon shift brought production up to produce reasonal numbers for the day.

Some discussion of the 'problem' removed the dip and actual plant production went up 20% since the afternoon staff showed that it was possible to produce product at a higher rate than was expected from the daily average reports.

From a corporate perspective this was a positive thing, but I think from a people objective it cratered a card game tradition.


Right... That was ann application of VisualStatus from the boss' point of view. It showed him where he needed to put his energy to improve production. Now to apply it to the team of workers, would be to put a giant display on the floor so the team could see the graph being generated. Then they could work out their morning activities so that the graph would look reasonable to the boss AND they could get in their card game ( VisualStatus continually reveals what the *next* action is). - AlistairCockburn

A good example: The MozillaProject?'s build system, known as TinderBox [1]. This displays the success or failure of several different machines that are continuously and automatically compiling and testing the latest code from the tree. Its use of color makes it very easy to see at a glance some of the most important information about the current tree state.

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