Avatars, graphical representations of real people, adorn agile boards across the globe. Using everything from South Park characters to super-heroes, they rarely look like their owners, and move across white boards like figures from a Dungeons & Dragons game. How pathetic! Grow up. I bet you dress up like your avatar at the weekend and go to Star Trek conventions too. What a bunch of losers!

David Lowe avatar

One of my avatars

That’s what I reckon a lot of people (who don’t use avatars) think. I don’t. I love them. When running a discussion group on what the ideal agile board should look like*, I was amazed to discover how few teams use them; I thought everyone did.

So why should you use them? What should they look like?

Why use avatars?
Quite simply, they help remind and inform everyone what is going on. I work in a department of hundreds and go to at least three stand-ups each day. I might have a pretty good memory, but there’s no way I could remember what everyone is working on. Two of those teams use their board in real-time too, which makes it even more important to have a visual cue. Only one of the teams I’ve worked with in the last 2 years (across 5 different brands) had avatars before I joined them. All still use them.

What should they look like?
Totally up to you. Use your favourite characters from Disney, South Park, Marvel comics, The Beano, or whatever else you fancy. We’ve recently been using WeeMees but also added plinths underneath to make sure it’s clear to everyone (specifically people outside our team who are reliant upon something we’re doing) who each dude is. One team even took the risk of designing each other’s avatars – dangerous, but it went okay this time. One thing I’d add about WeeMees is that they work better from the smartphone apps than the websites, but maybe we’ve been doing something wrong.

So, forget about looking like a saddo geek and give them a try. I bet you won’t regret it in two months’ time.

What do you think about avatars? Have you found them useful or pointless? Do you have suggestions of what images to use or how to create personalised ones? I’d love to hear your experiences.

* There’s obviously no such thing as the ideal agile board because every team is different and every board should reflect their circumstances. But, some features were quite often used and frequently benefit teams.

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