Lego Board

This lego board serves a particular need by a team in a unique way – like all the best board hacks do.

This wall is used by a procurement team for a large organisation as a place for conversations about the status of various procurement projects.  As well as the usual conversations around current status, blockers, progress, the team wanted to have visual indicators that would prompt them to have conversations about how long a project had been running, what stages of procurement it had already been through, etc.

AP lego wall 1

Prototyping to learn

The team started by quickly building a prototype wall using index cards with  mail-merge stickers on them describing each procurement project. This information had previously lived in a spreadsheet. With the work quickly thrown up onto a wall, they asked themselves the question: “What is this wall not telling me?”.

Answer: a lot! There were so many cards it was hard to see what was going on. They were hard to read. And the wall couldn’t tell the team anything about cycle time: how long was each project taking to go through the whole procurement process?

Additionally, one of the team members had a visual disability, so the team wanted something with high contrast and large lettering. This was going to be hard to achieve with cards, given the number of procurement projects which were in flight at any time.

With this learning, the team built a second board, this time from Lego.

The board now

The left hand side of the wall is fairly familiar – a line for each project, with columns for portfolio (coded by colour), category and status, as well as the cost of the project.  It’s over on the right that the fun begins.  The grey lego base board is divided horizontally into sections for each team member – who is limited to no more than 7 projects on the go and has their own little lego avatar and a “one brick” row 2 lugs high for each project.  Vertically, the board  is divided into weeks.

Team members get their own minifigs and each is limited to 7 lines and therefore 7 projects.

Team members get their own minifigs and each is limited to 7 lines and therefore 7 projects.

Each project is tracked using a lego brick.  The size of brick indicates expected length of delivery of the project  and the colour indicates the procurement stage that the project is currently in.

AP lego wall decoder

Brick colour represents process steps. Brick size represents T-shirt – size estimates.

At the beginning of each stage of procurement, a project’s lego brick starts in week 1 and progresses on from there.  At the end of each stage, the number of weeks spent is recorded on the edge of the brick using a sharpie, the appropriate colour brick for the next stage of the procurement process is stacked on top of the previous, and the stack of bricks goes back to week 1.


Each lego layer shows cycle time for a stage of the procurement process in weeks, together making up the whole project.

Team members can read weeks of cycle time for each project off the scale at the top.

Team members can read weeks of cycle time for each project off the scale at the top.

So it’s easy to see:

  • how long a project has been in it’s current stage according to the week column it is in;
  • the stages it has already been through by the different coloured bricks in it’s stack – not every project uses all steps, so it’s easy to see, for example, when a project hasn’t gone out for RFP as there will be no white brick in it’s stack);
  • which stage any given job is at by the top coloured brick;
  • whether it has been longer than planned in a stage – for example a medium-sized brick shouldn’t be sitting out at week 14; and
  • how long in total it’s been on the go by quickly adding the numbers on the sides of the bricks.


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Who invented the post-it note? And why?

post it pacman


Funnliy, for someone who uses so many post it notes, I have never asked myself this question.  (I am a little embarrassed by this since ‘Why?’ is such a fundamental question in Agile Coaching!}  Today, by accident, I discovered the answer.

In a book for Agile stationery-lovers everywhere, The Perfection of the Paper Clip, author James Ward reveals the answer:

“The Post-it note came about by accident, really. There was a guy called Spencer Silver, who was working at 3M. He was trying to come up with a really strong glue. Unfortunately, he got the formula wrong and created a very, very weak glue, which is not much use if you’re a company that sells glue. There was another colleague there called Art Fry, who as well as working for 3M, he was in a choir, and he used to use little pieces of paper to mark the pages in his hymn book. And those bits of paper would keep falling out, and he thought, oh, if only there was some kind of weak glue that I could use to stick these bits of paper in the book … and that’s how the Post-it note was born.”

Ironically, a solution looking for a problem!

Read more about the book and listen to the author on NPR radio here.  For more on the history of the post-it note, visit the post-it website.

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A Most Excellent Roadmap for your Adventure

Like they say at, ” if you’re gonna build a time machine into a car, why not do it with some style?”

This post is so perfect, we just had to link to it. Read and enjoy.


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Worst Jobs in History: Who sits where?

Here’s a candidate for the worst job in history. Put your hand up to be the one who figures out who sits where in an office, when there is a move or a restructure on.  An endless cycle of creating spreadsheets, consulting with people, updating spreadsheets, consulting again.  And no one is allowed to see it until it’s final for fear that they complain.  What a nightmare.

But my friend Nat has it figured out. The ultimate transparency in seating plans.  Instead of the endless rounds of secret consultations, and paper updating, he creates a place for conversation and thinking about who is going to sit where. On his filing cabinet, he sticks up a seating chart and uses people-shaped memo magnets, colour-coded further with liquid paper and highlighters to represent different teams:


Each team can see where they are sitting, and can try out different combinations with Nat.  “What if we did this?…”


It’s easy to update and change, you never have to worry about accidentally deleting someone (you can’t lose these magnets, they are so strong that if they are anywhere near the filing cabinet they will home in like an exocet missile), and if you need a soft-copy – just snap a picture.

(But what if you don’t have a handy filing cabinet? also stock a range of flexible iron products that can make a magnetic surface where there is none. Want to use magnetic cards but you have a glass wall?  You can attach flexible iron to the walls with double-sided tape, and the whole area is magnet-friendly.)


Spotted: If we tell you we’ll have to kill you.


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Epic status

Greater visibility to stakeholders: it can be an ongoing battle.  Even when they’re au fait with the vagaries of ‘when we finish this we’ll start on the next priority feature’,  keeping them up to date can be tricky.  And what about the “zoom level”?  Stakeholders want to see the big picture (roadmap) and the detailed planning.

We see teams tackle it many different ways, and often end up with a separate backlog of epics, or a feature roadmap, or future sprints mapped out across the wall.   Craig of Better Projects sent us this hack by colleague Ben Birch at Aconex.  It gives tight focus to the team’s work, without the need for a separate wall for a roadmap.

They simply added a lane around the outside of the sprint board, which indicates the flow of epics through their development lifecycle – from the backlog, through planning, development and release.  Epics travel across the top of the board – the further they go, the nearer they are to completion.


Epics start their journey in the backlog.  The priorities are fairly fluid here, as priorities change and new features are added. Realistically, anything not in the top two or three epics is aspirational.  And with multiple stakeholders, this is where the horse-trading of priorities can take place. These epics haven’t yet had much work done on them — and commonly haven’t been broken down into stories.

An epic in the planning stage is in the process of being broken into stories and analysed through more carefully.  The product owner is working on them, perhaps there UX  investigation going on, or there may be some spikes in play.

An epic moves into in progress when work starts on the first story card.
Story cards for the epic are added to the stories backlog on the main, internal area of the board — and colour coded to match the epics in progress.

In the picture we can see one green epic nearing completion, with another blue epic just beginning.  It’s worth noting that all the stories for an epic are added here, there is no separate backlog for stories.  When necessary, the team will draw a line through the story backlog to indicate where they plan to get to within the current sprint (not shown in this picture).

When all stories for an epic are complete, it moves into done, ready to go live with the next release.
It’s a simple hack, and it’s helped the team clearly communicate where various features are up to to their many stakeholders.
Thanks for sharing Ben and Craig!

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Post-it note pro-tip

Did you know there’s a wrong way and a right way to use a post-it?

If you peel them off the pack upwards from the bottom corner, they tend to just curl up and fall off the wall – especially with modern paints which seem to be chemically engineered to repel anything.  I noticed half my retros were ending up on the floor and I spent a lot of time picking up pesky post-its and slamming them back up on the wall, only to watch them fall again.  I was like that clown at the circus, running from spinning plate to plate, trying to keep them all in the air.  Then someone showed me the right way – peel them off the pack sideways to avoid adding any curl.  Your post-its will stay stuck much longer.

Bart Vermijlen explains it really well here:

The right way!


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Slickynotes look like they are worth a try

Index Cards and Post-its. Whiteboards.  These are our utensils.  We spend our days with them.  We write on them, stick em on walls, we photograph them. We write them up.  Hundreds of them.  I spend so much time with them that they even invade my dreams.  I think if I see those 5 pukey index card colours for another year though, I’m going to have to kill someone.  Ergh.

Hello, Slickynotes.

Slickynotes are reusable, 2 sided, and adhere by static cling.

Slickynotes stick to smooth surfaces by static electricity.  I tried them on glass and painted walls and they seem to stick about as well as post-its.  They don’t have adhesive on them which means that they are usable on both sides.  As an added bonus, one side is erasable if you use whiteboard markers, much like a whiteboard or those flexible magnetic index cards.  Another bonus is that these are re-usable – we do generate a lot of waste with all our post-its.

Slickynotes come in two sizes – the smallish ones are 100mm x 74mm, and the medium-sized ones are 200mm by 100mm.

I have some of these, and I’ve played with them, but I haven’t had a chance to try them out in a real life work setting yet.  A colleague swears by them though so I think they are worth a try.

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Lego Calendar

Lego calendar

On the topic of 3d hacks, did you see this excellent calendar?


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Lean Coffee?

You know how Melbournites can get about our coffee – if you dis my macchiato dealer, you’ll get into a stoush faster than you can say “Carlton sucks”.

One of my locals is the Postal Hall. I was intrigued recently by the particular visual dialect they use to make their tasks and queues visible. Look at the pictures below:


This is a queue. And the arrangement of spoons, bottle caps and milk jugs are the visual language.

The first cup in the queue is a flat white (milk jug) for the outside right table (see bottle cap), with one sugar (1 spoon). And it’s followed up by a cafe latte with two sugars for the same table.

If customers have a special requirement, this is signalled with the use of an ice cream stick: “smokin hot”!


The waitstaff bring the jobs in and set them up, and the barista creates the brew. No need to read a list, a quick glance at the setup tells the barista all he needs to know.

Next up, WIP queue limits?

For another example of lean in the fast food industry, see Nigel Dalton‘s classic post here.

We’d love to hear of other examples. Seen any lately?

Spotted: Postal Hall, 116 Russell St, Melbourne.

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Blocks of Time

Trying to keep track of time spent on different tasks. Or clients. Or projects. Maybe you have had this problem. I know I have. You want to do it easily as you go. We all hate timesheets, and trying to remember what we did all day. Imagine if it easy. Imagine if it was fun!

If you’re a consultant, you need it for billing purposes. If you’re not, your boss, or your timesheet might require it – or you might just be interested in understanding your work.  Michael Hunger had this problem, and he created this 3D hack to solve it:

Michael Hunger's week, represented in Lego.

Michael Hunger’s week, represented in Lego.

Here’s how it works.

Right there, that’s Michael’s week. Each row of bricks represents an hour, and each tower is a day. As he goes through his day, he uses the coloured blocks to represent the project he’s working on (the box of lego came with 8 colours, and he figures thats enough to cover his projects).  As he goes hour by hour, he adds the coloured bricks to the row for that hour. And builds up his day. The sizes of the bricks allow Michael to track in 15 minute increments, which should be enough.

When he’s building his day tower, he has a single unit lego “day” ruler next to it, to remind him how high 8 hours is. For him, thats his 10am to 6pm day. You can see this below:


Read the full details about this hack on Michael’s excellent blog, Better Software Development.

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