In an earlier article I wrote on Visual Management, I described how kanban boards can be viewed as multi-variant displays, visualising multiple possible dimensions of a kanban system. To visualize all these variants we can use a number of techniques to create multi-functioning graphical elements which can achieve a high data density. The techniques, when categorized and combined, create a visualization TIP, such that each element is made up of the following:
The Token is the element which represents some piece of work, with the attributes material, size, colour and shape all able to represent information.
The material is the base composition of a Token. Common materials are index cards and sticky notes, although anything which can be easily inscribed and placed on a kanban board will do.
To add a further dimension, the material can be used in different sizes to show some relative relationship between similar elements. Index cards, sticky notes and other adhesive shapes all come in a variety of sizes.
Similarly, the material that is being used for a visualization element can have different colours to show some enumeration. Again, index cards, sticky notes and other adhesive shapes also come in a variety of colours.
As well as typical rectangular index cards or sticky notes, other shapes, such as stars or circles, can differentiate between various elements. Similarly, a variety of shaped annotations or adornments can convey further information.
The Inscription is any detail added to the token about the work. Common types of inscription are annotations, graphics, linkage and formatting.
Annotations are any written information added to a token to give basic details about what the token represents.
Graphics can also be used to illustrate information related to the work in a more symbolic manner.
Linkage can provide references to further information, or related work items, in order to keep the inscription focused on the most relevant information.
How information is presented on Tokens can help to make them readable. Clear and consistent layout, using a tabular arrangement or zoned areas, ensures that any inscription is easily consumable.
The Placement is how the Token is positioned on the kanban board, with the location, alignment and rotation all being relevant.
Where an element is positioned can convey meaning, with horizontal or vertical placement being significant on a relational board design. The importance of location can also extend to elements such as cards themselves, with the position of annotations proving important.
When location is significant, then alignment can show a relationship between different elements, usually horizontally or vertically. Alignment is often used to create columns or swim-lanes with which to create an association. Other options include zonal alignment in a map-based format, or proximity alignment in a mind-map format.
The rotation of an element can mean different things, particularly with rectangular shapes which can be positioned in either landscape or portrait mode, or at some other angle.
When designing a kanban system’s visualisation, thinking about how the TIPs are used can help come up with solutions which are creative and contextually appropriate, and help avoid falling into the trap of copying known and sometimes simplistic examples, as highlighted by Keith Braithwaite.
In a future blog post, I intend to demonstrate how different dimensions of a kanban system might be visualised with a TIP. In the meantime, I wonder if you think I have missed any other techniques?
Update: I have written a follow up post giving examples of visualising kanban dimensions with TIPs