Visualising Kanban Dimensions with TIPs

Following on from my post describing a Kanban Visualisation TIP (Token, Inscription, Placement), this post gives some examples of how to visualise the various dimensions of a Kanban Multiverse. The goal is not to define any ‘correct’ ways of visualising information, but to show that there are a variety of useful approaches and hopefully inspire further new creative approaches. As such, I have listed at least 3 techniques for each approach and tried to include some variety.

The dimensions I have used are the usual project management details, but can include the concerns of any member of a team or community. Let me know what other dimensions or data variants could be added, and what interesting techniques have you used to visualise them.


Scope represents the content of the work associated with an element.

  • The size of the token can indicate the amount of work, with larger cards involving more functionality.
  • An inscription can describe the scope, most commonly with a written annotation.
  • A linkage can reference further details about the scope stored elsewhere.


Time represents the when work starts and ends and how long it has been in progress for.

  • Colour can indicate the aging of tokens, where lighter cards are newer, and older cards are darker.
  • Graphics can also be used to represent aging, with a dot or other symbol, being added for each day. Different colour dots can further distinguish between what state the work is in for each day.
  • A simple annotation of aging, or key dates can be written, using formatting to distinguish different information.
  • Where a particular date or service-level is being targeted, an annotation can be added at key points in time, such as 50%, 90% and 100%+.
  • The horizontal placement within a column can indicate time in progress, with the card moving further right each day.


People represent who the work is being done by (as opposed to resources!).

  • Colour can identify the ownership of a token for small teams, or a primary functional or disciple group for larger teams.
  • An avatar can be used as a graphic inscription to identify ownership.
  • Horizontal alignment in swim-lanes can also group tokens and associate them with people or sub groups.


Cost represents the estimated effort required to complete the work.

  • The size of the token can indicate the cost of work, with larger cards involving more effort.
  • Colour can indicate the cost of the work, especially when using relative sizes or buckets, with larger cards representing bigger pieces of work.
  • An annotation could be written on the token to indicate the estimated cost, such as a relative points, or t-shirt size.


Quality represents how well the work is being done.

  • Colour can indicate whether the token represents value demand or failure demand. More failure demand indicates lower quality.
  • An adornment can indicate the grading of a piece of work, where a lower grade (e.g. F) represents lower fidelity work, and a higher grade (e.g. A+) represents higher fidelity work.
  • An annotation of the number of tests and/or defects can indicate the level of testing that has happened for a piece of work.
  • The vertical placement of a token can indicate quality, with higher placement representing higher quality.


Priority represents how important the work is.

  • Colour can indicate priority if using an enumerated scheme such as MoSCoW, where a mix of priorities is used to manage risk.
  • The vertical placement of a token can indicate its priority, with high placement representing higher priority.
  • Horizontal alignment in swim-lanes can also group tokens by Class of Service to indicate prioritization policies.


Status represents what the progress of the work is.

  • Vertical alignment in columns can indicate the current phase of a piece of work.
  • The rotation of a token, such as making it portrait rather than landscape, can indicate that the status of the work has changed significantly, or that it is “done” for its current phase.
  • An adornment can be used to represent key status types such as “blocked” or “done”.


Capability represents the amount of work that can be worked on at any time, managed through work in process limits.

  • Where tokens are grouped through alignment in rows and columns, an adornment of the grouping can indicate the amount of work than can be taken in within the group.
  • Alignment groups can also have a fixed number of “slots” which indicate the amount of work that can be taken on within the group.
  • Graphical adornments such as avatars for team members can be limited and attached to tokens to indicate who is working on what.


Demand represents the amount and type work being requested. Demand could show failure and value demand types such as defects and features, classes of service, such as regular, fixed date or expedite, or investment allocations such as portfolio items.

  • Colour can indicate the different types of demand for a relatively small number of possibilities.
  • Shape or material can also indicate demand, and can be combined with colour to show combinations of work type, class of service and investment allocation.
  • Horizontal alignment in swim-lanes can also group tokens by demand type.


Value represents the benefit of completing the work

  • Colour can indicate the value where a granular enumeration is being used such as High, Medium and Low.
  • Size can also indicate an enumerated value, with larger tokens representing more value.
  • A formatted annotation can be written to indicate the value where a more precise number is being used.
  • The vertical placement of a token can indicate its value, with high placement representing higher value.

Externals: Issues, Risks, Constraints, Dependencies, Assumptions

These are all factors which are external to the represented work, but which impact it in some way. Issues represent things that might impact the progress of the work. Risks represent things that are impacting the progress of the work. Constraints represent things that limit the way in which the work can be completed. Dependencies represent things that must also be done as part of the work. Assumptions represent things that are expected to happen in order to complete the work.

  • Adornments can be used to represent these external factors, with colour being used to distinguish between the different types.
  • A separate token can represent each external factor, with colour being used to distinguish between the different types.
  • The placement of separate tokens relative to the main work item can show the relationship of external factors, either horizontally or vertically as sub-states, or in a more free-form manner such as mind-map.
  • A linkage can reference further details about the external factor stored elsewhere.
  • A annotation can be written to provide more details about external factors. Formatting can help identify the different types.
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A Kanban Visualisation TIP

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:

  • Token
  • Inscription
  • Placement


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

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