5 Reasons Why a Physical Scrum Board Rocks
30 November 2015
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!
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