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5 Reasons Why a Physical Scrum Board Rocks

30 November 2015

Reuben Salisbury
Be Agile Consulting

Having worked in many Scrum environments, I've encountered Scrum boards in all shapes and sizes. From the (overly) customized virtual JIRA or Rally boards to the simplicity of physical corkboards and sticky notes, and sometimes a combination of both, a given team can find what works best for them. Out of all the variations I've worked with, my personal preference is definitely a physical board.

Don't get me wrong — virtual Scrum boards can be useful for teams, and I'm a big fan of JIRA in general (don't judge). They can be great for tracking and planning features and user stories, capturing the specific details of requirements, acting as a knowledge base (attachments or designs), and useful — maybe even absolutely essential — for distributed teams. That aside, this post is about giving the physical Scrum board its 15 minutes of fame and outlining why I prefer using one.

1. It promotes collaboration and conversation

Many people, especially at the managerial level, seem to forget one of the core principles of Agile: "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools." That sounds much more like a physical board than a virtual board. The very nature of having a physical board automatically means there's more human interaction.

If someone walks up to the board and moves an item from "in-progress" to "done," you're much more likely to notice it and — shock, horror — communicate! "Nice one!" or "Good job!" or "Finally" (sarcasm) — whatever it is, it's promoting communication. Likewise, if you notice someone walk to the board and move something to "blocked," you know there's an issue right away, something you might not realize when using a virtual board until it's brought to your attention later.

2. It's a focal point

It's useful for daily stand-ups, and it's usually where the team will congregate. Anything that's not up to date will become apparent in the stand-up, and changes can be made then and there. (People will still forget to update cards, but less often. We'll talk more about that in a bit.) No one likes to watch someone struggling to update the virtual board during the stand-up. "Oh, the mouse batteries have died again?" "Oh, the monitor display connector is broken?" Great.

3. It promotes transparency

It promotes transparency because it communicates the status of things to everyone. Anyone who's interested can walk past and see how the team's sprint is shaping up without having to browse the virtual board and wonder why the team has no items in the sprint. This is all before realizing they've accidentally selected the AND status=blocked label!

4. It gets updated

It actually gets updated! Or at least more frequently. I don't know whether developers, for example, feel more conscious about updating the status of a task if it's out in the open for everyone to see, or whether they feel negatively toward virtual boards because no one is really paying attention to them. Whatever the reason, with almost all teams that I've been part of that have used a physical board, it's been updated more frequently.

5. It's more interactive and fun

Simply put, it's more interactive and fun. Customize it with different colored cards and sticky notes, print avatars for team members, and customize the swim lanes or columns, without painfully defining work flows. Do whatever feels right!


I'm not suggesting for a moment that anyone should abandon using virtual boards and purely rely on physical boards. After all, Scrum is all about adapting the framework to whatever works for your team, and if virtual boards are working, then that's great.

The point here is that physical boards can and do still play a vital role in Scrum. They offer benefits for the team that a virtual board simply can't. So don't go forgetting about the cork and sticky notes just because you've got some JIRA licenses!

Opinions represent those of the author and not of Scrum Alliance. The sharing of member-contributed content on this site does not imply endorsement of specific Scrum methods or practices beyond those taught by Scrum Alliance Certified Trainers and Coaches.

Article Rating

Current rating: 5 (11 ratings)


Sayi Sarat Chandra Parvatam, CSP,CSM,CSPO, 11/30/2015 12:20:41 AM
Well Presented - We use Jira and its very user friendly too :) - Thank you very much for sharing - appreciate it
Damien Corbishley, CSM, 11/30/2015 6:00:43 AM
Very good article, thanks for sharing. One question though, with distributed teams, do you simply opt for virtual boards, or have you used a combination?

Our teams are always split multi site so having a physical board never quite felt right for us. But the online board never gives that focal point I'm looking for.

Just wondered if you'd experienced a good balance between?
Jonathan Schneider, CSP,CSM, 11/30/2015 7:24:50 AM
@Damien, What I tried to do to compensate for a mix of on-site and off-site team members is to try to make it "feel" like there is a physical board. We utilized the boards in the ALM (application lifecycle management) tool like JIRA, Rally, VersionOne, etc., but just having the "exist" isn't enough.

A tool that helped us a ton was Hipchat for Jira because you can have notifications go into the chat room of a team when things are moved, changed, or updated.

I've done the dance of phone call Agile ceremonies with distributed teams...and it is the most painful thing. In addition, nobody wants to do it. Video conferencing has boosted all of my teams collaboration and productivity tremendously. Plus, video conferencing is way more fun :)
Meghan Robinson, CSM,CSPO, 3/17/2016 4:10:34 PM
Would you be okay with us highlighting this article on our new AgileCareers Blog?

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