Is visualization a powerful leadership tool?

 When a few years back I changed my role to become a Scrum Master I’ve read a lot of books, blogs, publications about how to be a great SM. Everything was new and amazing for me those days so I was learning my ropes really fast. When I look back I just remind myself with one thing that I’ve learnt at that time but in the reality I just couldn’t do. I couldn’t because I didn’t know how. It was very logical to me that this thing is must have not only in SM toolbox but also in Leader’s but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. A few years ago David Blend wrote that “… the ScrumMaster is the mirror for the team.” Right, mirror. What’s not to understand? Pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

The question is HOW? How, as a Leader or SM, be a mirror for the team? How to reflect the teams’ situation? How to do it effectively? How to add this thing to my toolbox?

I was struggling with finding the answers for the above questions for a long time. I tried many things. Some of them worked, some were just pure disasters. Finally, when I dove dipper into Kanban Method I found the second face of visualization. I found out how to be an effective mirror for the team.

Today I would like to share with you why do I think that visualization is one of the easiest-to-start and very powerful leadership tools.

First of all, let’s talk about easy-to-start thing. Visualization is all about making invisible work visible. It’s not about making very detailed and sophisticated view on everything at the first shot. Instead it welcomes evolutionary change which means that you can start with the easiest possible thing that will help you to visualize you your current situation and slowly improve it to see more. The easiest thing you can do is to just grab a piece of paper and draw. Illustrate your current process, project, team, etc. Make it easy to follow and understand. Start using this and after some time review. Add more details and slowly see more and more.

Talking about seeing more this actually can help in many ways:

  • Visualization works as a single source of truth. Of course not directly :). The case here is that once you start to visualize your work the place you’ve chosen becomes a single source of all information. You add there new work and update existing ones. If you’re a leader you can use visualization in multiple ways. Individually and in the team. As a leader visualization can help you to manage all your work. To understand your workflow and manage it appropriately. You can also encourage your team to visualize their workflow. They will use only one place to store all of the work relevant for them.
  • Thanks to having in one place everything, you and your team can make better decisions. Visualization helps to understand current situation much faster. For instance it helps to identify bottlenecks in the process and then make decisions on how to deal with them. It helps to spot any blockers and impediments much faster. It allows to build different workflows and based on set of rules better serve your clients. It gives the chance not to manage people but finally the work.
  • At the same time it encourages focus. While having the place with all information you and your team can make better decisions and this promotes focus culture.

Culture where the team is focused on:

  1. finishing already started things rather than continuously starting new,
  2. raising and resolving any blockers and impediments in the process,
  3. swarming around any problems they encounter,
  4. helping each other and at the same time taking teamwork to the next level,
  5. being a great team,
  6. making customers awesome!
  • Finally, visualization helps to increase team and individual motivation. There are lots of books and publications about motivation and how to work with it. Definitely it is a part of leadership role. Today I would like to stick to Daniel H. Pink’s idea about motivation. According to Pink’s idea there are three elements of intrinsic motivation:
    • Autonomy
    • Mastery
    • Purpose.

All of them are very important ingredients but for a second let’s imagine the situation when you do have a full autonomy but do not have any transparency what’s going on around you. Will you be motivated? I guess the answers is no. Why is that? I feel that’s because the presented items are at the top level and before applying them you should ask yourself question: what supports this particular motivation element. Like to build an amazing house you need to start with solid foundation first. The same is about motivation. Giving the team autonomy to make decisions is amazing but that’s only half of the needed solution. To be able to make good decisions they need to be able to asses the situation, understand the obstacles, etc. Generally speaking it requires a proper level of transparency. And visualization is the tool that can help you to build with the team transparency they need. Only combination of transparency and autonomy boost the collaborative environment with motivated people.

And what about this “mirror thing”? I hope right now you can answer this all by yourself.

Visualizations sounds a little bit like some kind of magical silver-bullet solution. It is not. It’s just a powerful tool that while used correctly can build stunning results. At this point I need to add just one more thing. It’s not only about proper understanding but also about continuously talking visualization to the next level. There’s no end state eventually we all live in the emergent world!