Edge of Chaos

Agile Development Blog

Scrum, Lean, Kanban, Visualization, User Experience, IT Lifestyle

Why Visualize?

There’s a lot of talk going on about visualization. Many posts in our blog are based on visuals, one way or another. Targetprocess, our agile project management tool, has quite a few visual reports. Visualization seems to have so many obvious benefits. However, someone might wonder: what the heck is all this visualization about? Sure, it is nice to look at visuals and cute pictures, but what real good they are?

I want to bring the point across, why visualizing is rather a need than a luxury. There’s only so much space in the blog, so I’ll resort to a little trick. Instead of writing it all out, I’ll recommend a great book:

the back of the napkin

Rest assured, and you have my word for it, no other book in the world provides such a clear and in-depth explanation of the benefits that one gets with thinking visually. Here’s the flagship quote from The Back of the Napkin that sums up this new way of problem-solving:

“Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see — both with our eyes and with our mind’s eye — in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply “get.”

First, this book does give an extended answer as to why it is worth to develop a taste for visual thinking.  In a nutshell, it’s fast and efficient (read more in the book, or watch out for my future posts :) Frankly, in some cases visuals won’t help and I’ve touched upon that briefly in the blog Visualization: Understated or Overrated?  However, for most problems that we encounter as problem-solvers in agile software development, or for the problems related to corporate strategies and objectives — nothing beats visuals.

Second, Dan Roam goes beyond listing the reasons why visual thinking is cool. He uses visuals as a proof, thus showing their excellent power in winning people over — that’s actually one of his points, too. Here’s just one elegant visual from this book, and it abounds with them:

see show

A point to note about “The Back of the Napkin” is that it’s not about making reports. The very name suggests that it teaches to use visuals in formal or informal social encounters. When meeting at a cup of coffee all that one has to sketch an idea is just the back of the napkin. Dan takes a very step-by-step, clear and confident pace in getting his point to the readers. I must confess I’ve never seen anyone champion an idea with such clarity. In fact, the concept of visual thinking does deserve to be championed in this brilliant way. Addressing one other common concern, there’s no need to be an artist in order to think visually, you’ll see why as you read the book. With such a great intro to visual thinking, one will save their time learning to make sense of visuals in general and of visual reports in particular. Sounds great: save time, solve problems efficiently… and – dare I say that? –  how about having some fun with those visuals?

Other book reviews in the Edge of Chaos blog:

A Lifetime of Presentations in One Book

Continuous Problem-Solving Is No Accident

Non-Violent Communication for Agile Teams

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