More and more lately, people ask me, “What should we do when the team really likes having a physical task board, but one team member is remote? Do we have to move to a virtual task board?”
Before I answer that question, let me say that the ideal solution to this problem is to move the remote team member to the same location as the rest of the team. But let’s assume that is impossible for some reason, and move to the question at hand.
No. You don’t have to move your work to an electronic product backlog tool if the collocated team members are already used to and like a physical task board.
You will, however, need to convey the information that exists on the task board to the remote team member—and vice versa. Unless the remote team member is working on something alone and only needs to check in every few days, the ScrumMaster will likely need to create and update an electronic version that mirrors the physical task board. A shared spreadsheet is normally sufficient for this, but if you prefer using a more specialized tool, that is fine.
Normally the ScrumMaster updates the electronic task board once a day, usually right after the daily scrum meeting. Of course, reading the physical task board and updating the electronic one can be time consuming because the ScrumMaster has to look at each task in both places to see if that item needs to be updated.
One good way of minimizing the time the ScrumMaster spends doing this is to mark the cards on the physical task board. The mark indicates, “I've updated this task. Please update it in the online task board.” I like to use Post-It flags for this. As team members do their daily scrum, they stick one of these flags (of any color) on the card. If the estimate changes, if the task is done, if a new task is added, those cards are tagged with a flag. When the meeting is over, the ScrumMaster can very easily see which items need to be updated.
The ScrumMaster removes the flags once the online task board is updated. This approach also works in situations where the ScrumMaster updates the board more than once a day. Any time someone changes the board, that person flags the task.
So can a team use a physical task board with a remote team member? Yes. But only if someone ensures that the remote person is still able to see and update the information from the physical task board. It’s more work, but if you truly cannot all be collocated—and if a physical task board is the best choice for the majority of the team—it is doable.