What is an Information Radiator in Agile?
We typically think of radiators as items that emit some form of heat, light, or sound. When it comes to Agile information radiators, the idea is much the same, but information is being emitted. The goal of an information radiator is to highlight data in an easily digestible format.
The term ‘information radiator’ is attributed to Alistair Cockburn, one of the signatories of the Agile Manifesto. It is also known as a Big Visible Chart (BVC). To boost visibility, Agile teams place their information radiators in an easily accessible location. Think of it as a noticeboard outside a school assembly hall — it is placed where there will typically be plenty of footfall, so students and teachers are more likely to view important announcements. An Agile information radiator functions in a similar way: to highlight key information to Agile team members, project stakeholders, and other interested parties.
An information radiator is not a static item — it shows a team’s progress as it moves through an Agile project, so it will change regularly to incorporate updates.
According to the Agile Alliance, an information radiator can include ”handwritten, drawn, printed, or electronic displays.” Burndown charts and velocity charts are two of the most commonly used reporting tools.
Kanban board vs. Scrum board
A Kanban board is perhaps the most well-known example of an information radiator. It places cards or sticky notes into separate columns to denote project progress. For example, the left-hand column could be ‘Planned,’ the middle column could be ‘In Progress,’ and the right-hand column could be ‘Completed.’
Information radiator vs. information refrigerator
An information refrigerator is the exact opposite of an information radiator. In a refrigerator, you have to root around to find what you are looking for. The information will be stored somewhere, but, unlike an information radiator, it is not instantly visible. Extra effort is required to find items that may be hidden at the back. In information radiators, Agile project data is always front and center.
Why use an Agile information radiator?
An information radiator can be a good motivational tool for Agile teams. They will likely be using digital technology to store their information, but a large chart will offer a bird’s-eye view of progress. Rather than making a conscious effort to check their progress online, a team member can simply glance at an information radiator to be reminded of how far they’ve come in a project.
Information radiators add a level of transparency. The team’s workload is clearly displayed for everyone to see, which enables accountability. A BVC can also stimulate feedback, opening new communication channels between an Agile team and external stakeholders.