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Agile Animations

Animation Film
Following my Agile 2018 conference workshop, I had a couple of people ask how I created the smooth PowerPoint animations. I have always liked using animations to explain ideas since they help me understand processes.

My logic has been, if they help me understand it, then they should help others understand it too. Visual learning, and especially animations, are valuable on knowledge work projects.

Animations help us overcome the three challenges of knowledge work:

  1. Invisible – designs and ideas are often abstract and hard to visualize.
  2. Intangible – bits not atoms. Since we cannot see or feel ideas there is a real danger other people might interpret them differently, leading to difficulties with collaboration and problem-solving.
  3. Transient – Our work is often novel and unique, the challenges teams face are often unique too. The solution to our last problem is unlikely to help us today.

Tom Wujec, the author of The Future of Making, has an interesting short Ted talk on how animation helps create meaning. He explains seeing an image triggers 30 portions of the brain to start working together to process information, solve problems and make decisions.

Visualizations address the knowledge worker challenges:

  1. Clarity through visualization – engage all those brain circuits, helping us comprehend faster and clarify ideas.
  2. Making concepts interactive – when we all see the same interaction of components, we build a common understanding as a group.
  3. Make permanent – Animations can be stored, shared, and replayed - capturing mental models of A-ha moments.

So, if a picture is worth a thousand words, is an animation worth a thousand pictures (a million words)? – No, but it is hard to beat visual storytelling.

Here are some of the animations I used. I was explaining that dependencies and handoffs between teams are costly. We first looked at the simple agile environment everyone learns about where teams pull work from their own backlog with no cross-team dependencies.

Single Team

We then looked at 3 teams with dependencies. If some work must be done by other teams, e.g. waiting for an environment team or microservices team, then handoffs occur. Tasks are passed to those teams for completion. However, those teams are busy doing their own work, so these requests usually get placed low in their backlog. Then the original team explains the urgency and negotiates reprioritization.

This all takes time and effort. While Team 1 is waiting for Team 2 to do their work they don’t want to forget about it, so they usually clone the user story and keep it visible until completed. It creates the familiar dance of follow-up and horse-trading we often see on projects.

Multiple Teams

Teams with a couple of dependencies like this are usually OK. My workshop was about how to cope when we have many more dependencies. Organizations that outsource portions of work, have specialized service groups, or handoffs to support teams create nightmarish tangles of inefficiencies. They are so entangled in handoffs and dependencies that tracking throughput or value-delivery metrics are pointless - other than to show how poor they are.

Blocked 1


Blocked 2

The workshop examined how to bring visibility to the problem and introduce solutions. We simulated Handoff-Hell with a table exercise that required inputs from other participants. We then explored resolution patterns that kept small-team benefits but limited the problems of multiple, inter-dependent project teams. We wrapped up explaining how to transition to a Product vs Project structure when you have many in-flight teams.

However, this post is about creating Agile Animations. If you are stuck in Handoff-Hell contact me about how to fix it. If you want to learn about creating animations to illustrate agile principles read-on, or rather, watch-on. I realized it would be contradictory to write about visual learning and how to create animations. If we truly learn best visually, and movement shows action better than words, I really need a video.

So, after 12 years of just writing on this site, here’s my first video. How to Create Agile Animations in PowerPoint.

(This was not easy for me to make. I am an introvert who does not like to hear myself recorded, so it is outside my comfort zone. However, I believe video is the future for education and I had to start somewhere.)

Hopefully, after explaining simple topics I can go onto tackle more advanced ones.




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