An information radiator is a large display of critical team information that is continuously updated and located in a spot where the team can see it constantly. The term “information radiator” was introduced extensively with a solid theoretical framework in Agile Software Development by Alistair Cockburn.
Information radiators are typically used to display the state of work packages, the condition of tests or the progress of the team. Team members are usually free to update the information radiator. Some information radiators may have rules about how they are updated.
Whiteboards, flip charts, poster boards or large electronic displays can all be used as the base media for an information radiator. For teams new to adopting agile work practices the best medium is usually a poster board on the wall with index cards and push pins. The index cards have a small amount of information on each of them and the push pins allow them to be moved around.
Information radiators help amplify feedback, empower teams and focus a team on work results. Too many information radiators become confusing to understand and cumbersome to maintain. If an information radiator is not being updated it should be reconsidered and either changed or discarded.
Here is an information radiator used to quickly display the status of multiple projects to an agile Project Management Office:
As the team used an information radiator, it can adapt the display of information to become more appropriate to the way the team is operating and the information they are really concerned about. For example, on the above IR for a PMO, the group may decide that they wish to put red dots on projects that are in trouble in some way.
Some very interesting examples of the effective visual display of information can be found in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information.