“An information radiator is a large display of critical team information that is continuously updated and located in a spot where the team can see it constantly.”

Source: Agile Advice

Agile project rooms should be organized in such a way that when you walk inside by looking at few charts you should be able to know how a project is going. Alistair Cockburn has called these charts information radiators. By the use of word radiator, Alistair means that your information display should be simple enough to be understood without requiring special skills in data interpretation. Information radiators should be updated several times a day.

A key point that we have to appreciate that various stakeholders need information about the project. The depth of required information and its frequency varies according to stakeholder’s role in a project. Project Managers need more and frequent information because they have to manage budget, customer relationship and team expectations among other factors.

In real world I see that Agile teams do not appreciate the importance of recognizing the correct information radiators and displaying them. A lack of Information radiators in a team room leads to continuous status checking by managers and stakeholders by walking in to the project room several times a day and asking team about the project status. Team members resent this micro management practice and fail to understand that despite of working hard and very focused, they have to answer several times a day how a project is going.

A plausible excuse, among the team members, for having no information radiators on the walls is that we have all the information in a wiki or in a tool X. While it seems reasonable from the team’s point of view, wiki and tool X do not ‘radiate’ information. Project Information should be visible with ‘naked eyes’. This is where charts on wall or white board can help. A good use of white boards and sticky notes, makes information easily visible. A drawback of such information radiators is that the displayed information is not backed-up and not visible to all the team members if a team is geographically distributed. A possible solution to these problem is making photos of information once per day using a digital camera for back up and maintaining information on Wiki to share with geographically distributed teams.

There is no doubt that Wikis and other tools make management of project information simpler which would have been cumbersome with whiteboards and sticky notes. Displaying all the information on walls can be cumbersome and not effective. Team should identify a subset of information radiators that convey the information stakeholders need. Normally for an Agile project team 2 or 3 information radiators would be sufficient. For example, two most commonly used information radiators by the teams at Xebia India are burn down chart and task board. Team can also display the sprint risks prominently in the project room.

I recommend selecting couple of information radiators during the project start up in collaboration with the stakeholders who need to know about the project progress frequently. A typical examples of the stakeholders include roles such as Product Owner, Project Manager and Head of Software Development. Put the selected information radiators on a wall of project room and update them regularly. After few sprints evaluate if your information radiators serve their purpose or you need to change them.