The Power of Visualisation to Achieve Agility

The adoption of Agile principles has become more common in government and not-for-profit organisations as digital disruption presents an opportunity for government organisations to be more efficient and more responsive to community needs. We’ve seen examples internationally of a local council in San Jose using a budgeting game to prioritise their community initiatives. Similarly, Australian local councils are also adopting Agile principles to meet the rising expectations of their communities.

Australian cities are experiencing rapid growth as more people seek Australia as a destination for business, residence, work, study and social opportunities. This means increased demand for services and higher volumes of data, critical for developing citizen-centric and more personalised services and for ensuring infrastructure and facilities can sustain the growth.

In this post, we will share an example of how an Australian local council has leveraged visualisation to achieve agility with their information and data capability.

Why Visualisation?

Agile principles state that the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a team is face-to-face conversation (as per the original Agile Manifesto principles developed in 2001). Visualisation as a technique maximises the value of this face-to-face interaction. Studies from the Huber Institute of Developmental Genetics have proven that 80% of what you perceive, comprehend and remember depends on the efficiency of the visual system.

Visualisation provides transparency by allowing team members to see the working product or deliverable as it progresses. It enables collaboration and co-design, ensuring a shared understanding and allows individuals to see the impact of their ideas and contribution. Most importantly, visualisation ensures we remember what we agree to, which allows us to achieve buy-in over a longer term.

Our Approach

A visual approach to developing a data strategy at this local council was made possible by having access to an open and large workspace. Finding the right workspace was the obvious first step. We then identified the key deliverables and phases that would benefit from using a visualisation approach to enable the success of the data strategy definition.  To do this, we targeted deliverables which required the broadest stakeholder engagement and collaboration across the different business functions. Additionally deliverables which were historically hard to gain agreement and buy-in from stakeholders were strong candidates for visualisation. The deliverables we chose to visualise were the prioritisation matrix, stakeholder engagement map and complex data structures.

This enabled the team to take anyone, including visitors from outside the project team, that walked through the doors through these deliverables. This subsequently meant they were also able to take these visitors on the journey to recognise the importance of data and to demonstrate how each business unit plays a valuable role in effectively creating, managing and protecting data assets.


Image to the left shows the running of a workshop with visuals and the image to the right shows a panorama of the project room.

We would also use this space as a dedicated working area for our teams when defining their future data strategy and ways of working. We would run team sessions in this area which we called ‘data forums’. In these sessions, we showcased deliverables, tested and refined ideas from different vantage points of the organisation, and sought regular input and two-way feedback. The more sessions we had with the stakeholders, the greater level of engagement we had, stakeholders enjoyed working in this way.

Using this approach over 10 weeks, the project team was able to quickly prioritise 20 data capabilities and gather regular feedback from over 30 stakeholders across business units to create:

  • data forums
  • council’s data strategy
  • future data architecture
  • process for the future data and reporting service
  • knowledge library that contained data standards and an initial business glossary
  • capability uplift in agile ways of working

While completing these activities without visualisation might take a similar amount of time, the key value-add and differentiator in using visualisation was the quality of the output and level of stakeholder engagement at the end of these 10 weeks. Other approaches for setting up structures and data governance face challenges, particularly when it comes to getting buy-in and ensuring adoption. By taking a visual approach, where we show, involve and collaborate with key stakeholders in the process of forming the council’s future data strategy, we were able to deliver a high quality strategy, connect across business units, gain greater buy-in from all levels, and generate excitement.

Examples of Key Outcomes to Visualise

Next, we’re going to take you through some of the key deliverables we mentioned earlier in this blog post, visualised to reach a consensus quickly, empower stakeholders to make decisions and gain buy-in and support.



 Image 1: Prioritisation Matrix


Prioritisation Matrix – Visualise to have outcomes-driven discussions to gain consensus on priorities in the short time box
We allowed 10 minutes within a 1-hour co-design workshop with about 15 stakeholders to prioritise 20 data capabilities (see Image 1). Visualisation allowed us to short cut what is typically a lengthy and isolated engagement process, consisting of individual stakeholder meetings/workshops. Instead of doing this separately and consolidating the outcomes, we decided to do this visually and collaboratively with all stakeholders. The output from this session was an agreed, prioritised view of key data capabilities.

Image 2

Image 2: Data forum visuals


Stakeholder Engagement – Involve and empower key stakeholders to make decisions on matters that will have an impact
Agreeing on stakeholder roles, responsibilities and gaining commitment and buy-in is a challenge across most projects. Using the visualisation approach, we were able to develop a stakeholder map that was made visible to all. We started with a view of stakeholders, split by business unit and by data capability, which at a quick glance illustrated the coverage of representatives across the organisation (see Image 2). In the following iterations, we  engaged stakeholders to help visually represent (on the wall) who would be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed (RACI model) as a way to define roles and responsibilities of each level in the data governance structure, as well as, form part of the position descriptions of data roles like data owners, custodians, subject-matter-experts, and data architects.  We found this improved the buy-in, commitment and transparency from stakeholders. Because the stakeholders responsible and accountable were visible to anyone who walked past the working space, we generated a strong sense of ownership.

Image 3

Image 3: Day 1 data model activity

 Image 4

Image 4: Final iteration of data model activity

Complex Data Structures – Visualise to gain buy-in from key stakeholders for the future enterprise data architecture
Complex structures and architecture are challenging to get stakeholders to understand, review and provide feedback on. By using visualisation, we were able to represent and iterate on the models in a simple way. By having a tangible data model (see Image 3) to move around, feedback was able to be incorporated quickly (see Image 4). Laying out each model side by side on the wall also helped key stakeholders and the project team visualise the complex layers that go into implementing a flexible and scalable future state data architecture that combines traditional data warehouse layers with new generation capabilities for data discovery and analytics.

In summary, the power of visualisation allowed us to take stakeholders on a journey into what the future data strategy will look like. In showing and including stakeholders, we gained the support of a large number of stakeholders from varying business units and across various levels in the organisation. From a project perspective, we were able to deliver high quality outcomes and gain stakeholder buy in a short time-frame. We delivered artefacts that were contextualised and specific to the needs of the organisation, thanks to the level of consultation with stakeholders. This shows that visualisation when paired with collaboration and co-designing approaches is a powerful tool. A lasting thought from an old proverb: “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”

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