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Information Radiators

stoplightFor a business that by definition occupies a highly technical domain, we have some relatively low-tech means of conveying information internally. Sure we e-mail, Twitter, Yammer, and even Skype with each other on a regular basis, but we also make use of yarn, note cards, cork boards, and old traffic equipment. I’m talking about our information radiators, objects around our office that align the team by sharing important information in a fun and hard-to-miss way.

Perhaps the best example of this is the large traffic light positioned in the center of our office. The stoplight is rigged to our continuous integration monitor (which displays the integration status of all active projects), displaying an aggregate of this information. A red light points out a problem, a yellow light shows that we’re processing a recent change, and a green light means that everything is running smoothly.

Another information radiator is our Atomic Spin Blog visitor tracker, a large cork board positioned in the center of our office. Each day, after our stand up meeting, I update the chart for the previous day, making any appropriate “annotations,” like the primary source of traffic for that day. I also like to add people’s photos to the board when they create a new blog post. Last month, for instance, our shooting star Scott Miller literally jumped off the chart with his post on TDD.

corkThese information radiators are not intended to be a sole source of information. The stoplight follows our continuous integration monitor, and the blog board is a somewhat artistic interpretation of the information already stored in Google Analytics, annotations and all. But these visual and dynamic sources of information are not just about the “what” but also about the “how.” The stoplight is able to represent in a very simple way a company value – creating high-quality, ridiculously good, tested and working software at each step. It also provides an opportunity for us to talk about our development methods with visitors to the office. In the same vein, if someone has a hugely successful blog post, what is the best way to share that information? Spam the office with a company-wide email? Tell everyone to access the analytics account themselves and keep tabs? Or is it to get out a ladder so that you can tack a big yellow star near the ceiling? There is something about yarn and stars that just works.

scott's star And how do I know? People have told me. “I really want to blog now – so I can get a star.” Okay, so that was probably sarcastic, but the chart nevertheless has the power to encourage all of us to pay attention and contribute to the blog. It makes it very easy to represent – for instance – the fact that this month’s line is higher than last month’s line, or that so-and-so’s blog posts contributed to that success. The chart provides a connection between blogging effort and the popularity of our blog. And it makes me do my job better and promote our blog like crazy.

In sum, the information radiators do more than radiate information. They do it in a way that – because it’s highly visual and fun – is able to rally the team and create excitement about the various goals and objectives we have as a company.

PS – Help me get a star by sharing this article!