Physical vs. Electronic Task Boards – Which Is Better?


Physical vs. Electronic Task Boards – Which Is Better?


I recently spent a few days on a coaching assignment with a small team that transitioned to agile about a year ago. We started with a retrospective of their agile practices, and I found it interesting that a task board they could physically touch was something the team liked best.

Obviously, agile practices promote the use of a physical task board for several reasons, and this team really was seeing the benefits. Here are some of the reasons they so enjoyed their task board:

  • -They have fun with it. For example, they each have their own Lego superhero figures, which reside on the cards they are working on.
  • -The physical board is a great “information radiator,” providing visibility and transparency into what everyone is working on without the need to log into a tool. Because this is the only team practicing agile, the task board provides other teams with a little peek into how an agile team operates.
  • -The physical board helps sort out what they're working on in the sprint without them digging through emails, spreadsheets or any other tools. They liked this low-tech approach, which, of course, is what agile methodologies promote.

I found this interesting because personally, I’ve had some issues maintaining a physical task board, and wondered if the very notion was going “out of style.” I’ve often thought electronic boards were preferable because:

  • -You don’t have to be physically present to see the status of the board (especially useful if you have remote team members or anyone who works from home).
  • -Electronic boards will calculate velocity, burn down and other metrics for you.
  • -You have documentation that will store data about the user stories, which is handy for traceability if similar stories or questions come up.
  • -If you have both physical and electronic boards, you have two different records, which is usually a mistake because of the potential for maintenance and consistency issues.

Because this team chose not to use burn down or burn up charts, they did not have the cumbersome task of manually calculating these numbers or keeping both a physical and electronic board in sync.

Though the team felt good about their physical task board, they weren’t crazy about their stand-up meetings. Because their task board is in a hallway, having the stand-up meeting near it created disruption for others in that area, so they had their stand-ups without the benefit of their task board. 

Also, team members were allowed one weekly work-from-home day, and they chose not to call into their stand-up meeting during those days. Stand-ups often started late and went long. For these reasons, the stand-up meeting rated low in their assessment of the usefulness of their agile practices.

So here’s the solution that was created: In order to keep the benefits of their task board, and address the concerns of their stand-up meeting, the team decided to hold stand-ups by the task board, promising the people sitting close by they would minimize the noise and limit their meetings to 15 minutes.

This change also provided incentive to keep the stand-ups short and focused. If someone is working from home, they answer the stand-up questions via email and have a delegate make the updates on the task board.

The textbooks recommend a physical task board. And the team I highlighted today certainly realized the benefits of it. But, there were definite issues in the stand-up meetings due to not having the task board available. It was rewarding to see the team discuss the different issues and come up with a solution that worked best for them.

Do you prefer physical or electronic task boards? Let me know in the comments below.



 

Yvette Francino has more than 30 years in the software development industry, and is an independent consultant, experienced agile leader, coach, author and trainer in various methodologies including SAFe, Scrum, Kanban and large-scale custom methodologies.

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