It’s a mystery; I just know.

The first words I learned to read were “off” and “on.” I noticed them on the light switch. By the sounds of the names of the letters, and the effects of moving the switch up and down, I made the connection to the words.

After that start, I was on my way to becoming an avid reader.  It’s not that I read great literature or learned essays. I read pretty much anything that was in front of me.

I remember reading a lot of cereal boxes at breakfast time. How could I not, when the box was on the table in front of me? Usually it was the same thing I’d read the day before, but every now and then it was new information. I also noticed things I wasn’t expecting, or looking for, which became obvious when I saw them–things like the registration marks for printing the different colors. This told me volumes about the process of color printing.

In recent years, I’ve come to depend more and more on the use of reading glasses. Progressively, they’ve gone from simply relieving eyestrain to being essential for most reading. In the process, they’ve made me acutely aware of how we filter out information through essential laziness. There are many placards and notices that seem too unimportant for me to put on my glasses and read. How do I know they’re unimportant if I don’t read them? That’s a mystery; I just know. And sometimes I’m wrong.

As I coach software development teams, I’m often encouraging them to post important information in very visible ways.  Release burn-up charts, kanban boards, graphs of velocity, both attempted and accomplished–these very visual ways to represent information often trigger insights or offer surprises. When posted large and in plain sight, they generate a shared understanding of the current situation in a way that facilitates helpful conversations. When they’re hand-drawn, they ensure that the data is noticed. Generally this requires only a few moments every two weeks for most things and most teams.

It’s a small task, and I’m surprised when clients just don’t do it. They know it’s unimportant. They don’t need them. They’ve got tools that can generate them on the fly when they want. Machine generated graphs are more precise. They must be on-line because some of the team members are remote. Or some of the managers who check up on the team are remote. They have so many reasons to not draw these simple information radiators. They just know that they’re unimportant.

How do they know they’re unimportant when they haven’t tried them? It’s a mystery; they just know. And sometimes they’re wrong.

Paraphrasing Mark Twain, “a team that doesn’t post information radiators has no advantage over one that can’t.”

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Comments (5) to “It’s a mystery; I just know.”

  1. The converse of posting important information is that unimportant information, or info that is no longer important, often needs to be removed. An interesting measure when visiting teams is to gauge how current their posted artifacts are. Quite often, it’s just wall decoration that’s faded into the background.

  2. Maybe some teams don’t want to know how much they suck?

  3. Good point, Dave. Leaving unused information cluttering the walls makes us blind to important information.

  4. Good content, format could be better for me if article text was closer in size to the title text (I use reading glasses too…).

  5. Thanks for the chuckle, Bob. I sympathize.

    (By the way, you can enlarge the text in your own browser.)

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