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Effective Use of Color in Visual Management

Encourage transparency and improved communication

5 June 2017

Visual management is one of your strongest tools when it comes to cultivating collaboration and ensuring transparency. For those unfamiliar with the concept, visual management is displaying information in such a way that the presentation assists the audience in understanding the content. This is different than reading information directly from a document, as it should require less effort from the audience to interpret. Scrum and Kanban boards are a form of visual management. Pie charts and other graphs are also examples. 

Color coding is the easiest place to start with visual management. Agree on color code conventions with other teams to ensure that everyone speaks a similar visual language. This improves collaboration and makes it easier for stakeholders and others to quickly understand what the team is trying to communicate. An example of a color coding standard that you could apply to a Scrum or Kanban board is below.

Now we present this again as a product backlog for the team's upcoming sprint (image below). Instantly the color coding has given us an impression of what kind of work the team will be focusing on. Before reading a single word, anyone familiar with the color code can tell that a significant proportion of bugs and defects needs to be resolved during this sprint.

Remember, it is critical to make sure that a reference to what the colors mean is clearly visible, and avoid using a single color for multiple purposes. In the case that you have anyone on your team who has enchroma (commonly referred to as color blindness), you can incorporate symbols or try using colors of varying tonal values. An easy way to avoid a lot of these issues is to ask two or three people from outside your team to explain what your visually managed information means. The accuracy and speed of their explanations will validate how easy the color code is to understand.

You may get the urge to start writing or drawing in color as you experiment with visual management. As a general rule, it's better to avoid color on color. Visual management is about communication. The use of color needs to provide some utility if it's going to add value. Use white, black, or a dark grey if you intend to use color text. This will provide enough contrast to catch the eye of even a casual observer.

Visual management is a powerful assistant to ensuring a team's transparency and engagement with stakeholders. With a little collaboration, the effective use of color can lower the barrier of communication in any Scrum team.

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

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