I love looking at radiators. At Ebay, we had radiators showing the regular agile software project information. A table-like structure showing stories moving from Ready, to In Progress, to Completed and finally to Accepted.  This was usually complemented by a burn-down chart to show if the team was on track.

In my current team, we’re not doing Scrum like at Ebay, but Extreme Programming. I love the concept of choosing which story to work on daily. Placing individual avatars to represent who is working on which story is less necessary if everyone is working on the same set of stories during the whole iteration. I’ve seen Information radiators where the developers use their real picture. Others use the characters from The Simpsons. We don’t have a theme. I’m represented by a photograph of a Swede (also known as a rutabaga) since English people have dry humor and I’m the only Swedish guy on the team.

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A team using Simpson avatars to represent the developers. In this image, the radiator shows team members who are on vacation.

Since we’re doing Extreme programming, we’re doing pair programming all the time. After every standup, everyone chooses what to work with. Every pair put their avatars on the story they’re working on and crack on with their task. Naturally, it happens that we’re working in odd numbers, which is no disaster of course. But to keep it to become a regular occurence, anyone who is “soloing” is partnering has to put a cowboy hat avatar next to his own. This works a reminder to the solo coder that pair programming is the preferred way.

Something we’re not using, which I miss, are burn-down charts. A burn down chart works perfectly when the scope is static, which is the case when working in iterations. Changing stories is allowed, but it is not allowed to increase the number of man/pair hours.

A burn down chart displays the team performance compared to its estimation. There’s a bump towards the end. It is possible that either scope was increased (violation) or some work that was deemed completed wasn’t accepted.

Even if you’re working in iterations where the scope is indeed static, the customer is still allowed to throw in new stories in the back log of total work to be completed. Displaying this in a burn down chart is possible but becomes a bit awkward. Instead, one could use a burn up chart.

A burn up chart has a roof. When the roof is hit, the project is complete. If there’s more added to the back log, the height to roof is increased. The project begins at the floor, or at origo on a graph, and as stories are completed, a line is drawn closer and closer to the roof.

Burn up chart showing iterations along the x-axis, and completed stories (y-axis). The yellow line is the ideal completed stories per iteration, and the green line is the actual completed stories per iteration. The white line represents the entire project’s back log.

This burn up chart shows how the total number of stories (or story points) have increased with time. The project is completed when blue meets red.

The need for radiators differ from company to company, but could and should be utilized differently. Before Alistar Cockburn coined the term Information Radiator, it was already used in plenty of places. “No accident in ___ days”, for example, reminding workers to follow safety procedure.

I hope to see more creative radiators in the future.