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4 years ago

How Visualize: Board, List or Timeline?

Recently I've written a blog about the benefits of visual thinking.  Assuming that many of you are now aware of the advantages that visuals bring to the table, I'd like to give a few tips on how to visualize work in agile project management. Visual reports would probably be the first thing that comes to mind in this context. That's right, visualization is most commonly used in reporting. Everyone wants comprehensive reports, fast, and that's what visuals deliver. All kinds of stats and metrics wrapped up in a nice graphical skin, just as in this process control chart:

Process Control Chart

A Process Control chart in Targetprocess

My main focus this time is not on the visual reports, though. There's a baseline dimension for visual choices in agile project management, as we're looking for the most convenient ways to see exactly what we want to see. We might need to view our projects from various perspectives, and we need flexibility with visualizing things. Boards, lists and timelines would cover most of such needs. Let's now look which of those three would be best suited for which tasks.

#1. Boards

You will want to visualize work on a board if you need to intersect  2+ properties of a card, or if you want cards grouped by any of 2+ properties. All that switchable visualization magic can only happen if your agile project management tool does the job as described in the Kanban as Multiban? blog . Unlike the classical Kanban board, this board is supposed to be a switchable 2D (or even 3D) grid of any properties of a card or a group of cards . This is a must-have prerequisite for that limitless freedom with visualizing projects on a board. I'm aware of only one tool that has this "switchability". Let me give some examples.

You want to know who is doing what. Which person has which to do's assigned to them. Hmm, this is not something that you would easily see on a static Kanban board. You can dial in a custom people-work grid, and here's how it would look on the board (click to enlarge):

development work by person in Targetprocess 3

User Stories, Bugs and Tasks by person in Targetprocess 3. Who's doing what?

Then, you want to know about impediments, and how are they blocking progress in your projects. Switch the grids, and see them with ruthless clarity:

impediments by projects and states in Targetprocess 3

Impediments by Projects and States in Targetprocess 3

Visualizing a project with any of the switchable boards makes sense for anything drag-n-drop. It's more than moving cards between states. The switchability will allow to fit almost any change to a drag-n-drop action. That's how one can arrange user stories on a board for estimating. The 1, 2, 3, etc. vertical lanes are points. A user story will be dropped to any of those lanes when estimated:

estimate user stories in Targetprocess 3

Estimating user stories with drag-n-drop in Targetprocess 3

#2. Timelines

You will want to visualize something as a timeline if you need an activity or a group of activities plotted on a timescale, with some explicitly marked milestones. This is called roadmapping. If time-sensitive activities are visualized on a board, with the intersected year quarters and epics as on the screen below, the feel of time would not "sink in" that well :

a quarterly breakdown of work -workaround in Targetprocess 3

A workaround for roadmapping in Targetprocess 3

.. as with a roadmap shown on a timeline. The sense of time is more acute with this visualization:

a large timeline in Targetprocess 3

Roadmapping with timelines in Targetprocess 3

Tracking work on a timeline  helps get a clear picture in one look. A timeline would also work better than any other visualization if you need to see individual allocations across several projects:

individual allocations on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

Individual allocations on a timeline in Targetprocess 3

One absurd idea for using timelines, just to give you a strong anti-pattern, would be to visualize  a tag as a timeline. Sounds weird. A tag is a tag, no one cares, when and why has a user story been tagged with a tag. Hmm.. However, there still can be a realistic case even for that, if one would want to see when this tag was first used, to which to-do's was it applied, etc.

I've been using timeline visualizations from Targetprocess 3 in the examples above. Frankly, if you want to visualize with timelines, you'd hardly do without an electronic tool. Apart from the switchability, it takes quite some effort to draw timelines on a physical whiteboard.  Guess how much time would it take to draw a timeline any time one wants to get a custom visualization?

roadmapping in a timeline Targetprocess 3

A roadmap on a whiteboard

#3. Lists

You will want to visualize work as a list if there are only a few to-do items,  or if you need to trace the hierarchy of epics -> user stories-> tasks-> bugs as here:lists sketch for Targetprocess 3

A sketch of lists in Targetprocess 3

A list also comes handy if you are hastily typing in the to-do's, especially if on the go, catching ideas before they go. With no big screen for boards and timelines around, you might want to use lists on a mobile device:

list view in Targetprocess 3 iOS app

A list view in Targetprocess 3 iOS app

As a summary, your visualization choices will depend on what you want to see, or what you want to do. Switchable boards and timelines can visualize anything. If you're still skeptical about that, check this page with even more board visualizations.

  • Peter Kerschbaumer

    Great article. When will you release time lines in TP3?

  • indigo777

    Thanks, Peter. We’ll let everyone know in this blog:… *whispering* very soon…

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