Take the 2-minute tour ×
Project Management Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for project managers. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I used to practice Scrum with a physical board. We often faced problems when working with distributed teams or just when going into a meeting room. So I decided to implement a SaaS service to provide an online board, but after speaking with Agile coaches it appears they don't like this virtual solution because it breaks the real interactions promoted by the Scrum framework.

Why would they say that? I think it's better to have all of the team involved and informed.

share|improve this question
    
Probably related: pm.stackexchange.com/a/8561/4271 –  CodeGnome Feb 15 '13 at 15:54
    
They thought that breaks the real interactions promoted by the Scrum method but I think it's better to have all the team involved and informed in live. –  Olivier Hory Feb 15 '13 at 15:55
1  
Request you extend your question to "How much better?" Based on my reading, Scrum has a religious preference for meatspace communications. Respect for data & measurement seems to be woven deeply into Scrum, but on this issue, I've seen no data to support the assertion. I would find it very helpful to measure the impact of well structured distributed scrum meetings. –  Mark C. Wallace Feb 15 '13 at 18:25

12 Answers 12

Which one is better? The one that works better for the team. That is the entire point of Scrum. Enable your teams to organize around practices and tools that work for them, and stay out of the way.

It really doesn't matter what your Agile coaches like and don't like. Their opinion can be used as a basis in your team, but the bottom line is to use what works. Try one board for a few iterations and talk about it during your retrospectives. If it doesn't work, change it. Be agile. Adapt.

My vote in this instance is always for an electronic board and a projector or large monitor in a public area.

share|improve this answer
    
It's interesting that you say your vote is always for an electronic board - when you have also said use what works for the team. –  Mark Pearl Oct 17 at 7:20
    
Sorry, to clarify: as a member of a team I usually vote for an electronic board, but that is just my personal preference. From the team perspective, it may not be most useful (and may not be what we adopt). –  Andrew Clear Oct 17 at 19:53

The point of having scrums is to facilitate intra-team communications. From that point, having a physical board is beneficial because it forces people to be in the same room and communicate face-to-face. Remember that something like 75-80% of communication is composed on non-verbal cues, so if you are trying to do things virtually when you don't have to you are making the communications less effective than they have to be.

If you have a distributed team that can't physically be in the same place then you have to find ways around the limitations inherent with that kind of setup. If this is the case for you may just have to acknowledge that you don't have a perfect situation but are dealing with it as best you can. The caveat is that when I say "they can't physically be in the same place" I mean that as a rule of thumb they would have to drive or fly or take a train whatever to get to where your board is rather than walk. Improving communications on a project is well worth a little inconvenience.

share|improve this answer
1  
No, the point of having Scrum is to have flexible self-organizing teams delivering working software on a regular basis. Let them choose what board works best for them. That is the idea behind self organization. –  Andrew Clear Feb 18 '13 at 21:08

Why Agile Practices Generally Favor Face-to-Face Solutions

[A]fter speaking with Agile coaches it appears they don't like this virtual solution because it breaks the real interactions promoted by the Scrum framework.

According to one Wikipedia entry, 2/3 of all communication is non-verbal. In an agile context, this means that in-person interaction generally provides higher-bandwidth semantic communications between team members than a comparable exchange over telephone, email, or instant messaging.

In addition, the Agile Manifesto values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. One reason for this is that tools should support the organic, emergent behavior of the team rather than forcing the team to build its processes around a specific tool-chain. In fact, in a related post I said:

Never, ever build your process around a tool-chain; always build your tool-chain around your process!

None of the foregoing means that virtual story boards are bad, or that they shouldn't be used. However, one certainly needs to be cognizant of the trade-offs inherent in using a virtual story board, and take care that the tool is not used in place of interactions or processes.

Why Virtual Solutions Are Adaptive

A physical board will generally increase interpersonal interactions, and create spontaneous communications opportunities around the story board as people update it or view it. If given the choice, I too would recommend a physical board over a virtual board in the abstract.

Having said all that, I think you are right: in your specific case, a virtual story board is necessary tool to keep your distributed team informed and engaged. However, the reason it's valuable isn't that it's electronic or virtual; it's useful because it increases communications bandwidth, project visibility, and task synchronization within the team. It addresses a concrete logistical issue; as such, I'd certainly consider it adaptive.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 for the '2/3 of all communication is non-verbal' argument. I had never thought about it but it makes complete sense. –  Tiago Cardoso Mar 21 '13 at 12:04

I've worked on teams using both methods, sometimes at the same time. Others have mentioned the reasons for preferring the real world scrum board being about physical interaction and in-person communication.

Personally, I prefer virtual scrum boards for several reasons.

First, as you mentioned, distributed teams or even simply working from home days. In those cases the team members have no view of a physical scrum board and, more importantly can't update the scrum board themselves. They have to ask another team member to update the board for them and that just takes more engineering time away from that person. Plus, this almost always results in once a day updates from that person instead of having the continuous sprint status that the board is supposed to convey.

Also, tracking and historical views of the project are much easier to deal with using a virtual scrum board. When using physical boards, at the end of a sprint, all the cards get taken down and either tossed in a pile that nobody ever looks at or they're thrown away. How are you then supposed to look back at anything deeper than your point velocity when all your story/task level tracking is gone?

Reporting in general is just easier with a virtual scrum board. One of my teams now uses a physical board and I have to go in every day and copy the points remaining from the board into an excel spreadsheet so that I can generate a burn down chart. In a virtual board situation, the data is all there and, depending on the system you're using, can constantly generate burn down based on the board at any time of the day or night.

So for all the talk of fostering in-person communication, I think the cons of a physical board outweigh the pros. You're still going to have your daily scrum standups for that in-person interaction. You're going to display the virtual board to the team during the standup. Heck, you can even set up a place where the virtual board is displayed 24x7 that team members can still gather around.

share|improve this answer
    
"Personally, I prefer virtual scrum boards for several reasons" Great. Now get input from the rest of your team and follow their guidance. Try it for an iteration or two and if it doesn't work, change it. Scrum is not about dictation of tools. –  Andrew Clear Feb 18 '13 at 21:10
    
Oh yeah. The rest of the team wants a physical scrum board so we have a physical scrum board. I've been dictated enough tools/processes in my career to know better. I'm honestly not sure why they want they physical board as they never update it and complain about having to walk over to the room whenever a task changes status. But there we are... –  NightMan Feb 19 '13 at 15:06
    
It should be updated at a minimum during every daily standup. –  Andrew Clear Feb 19 '13 at 20:35
    
The problem with that is what happens when I go to the board in the middle of the day and pick up a task then find out the next morning another team member was working on it, but waited until the scrum to update the board? It just doesn't work. –  NightMan Feb 20 '13 at 21:50
1  
You've agreed upon a communication method that everyone isn't using if you are grabbing work that somewhere is already working on. This is a team dysfunction, and not a dysfunction of the physical board. –  Andrew Clear Feb 21 '13 at 16:06

I prefer a physical board for several reasons:

It's (usually) easier to change your process.

Want to add a code review step? Just add a column. That's easy in some virtual products but a pain in some.

It creates a focal point for standups.

unless you have a really big screen where you have your standup, a physical board makes a great point to gather, discuss what's in progress and any blockers and talk about risks.

People actually update it!

In every team I've been in that's used a virtual board, people update it very infrequently (typically in a rush before standups after the Scrum Master has had to go and ask them to do it) so it doesn't always have a good picture of what's going on.

It communicates to other stakeholders more easily.

My CIO is unlikely to open a virtual board but will have a look at our physical one when he walks past. Equally, if I see him looking at the board, I'll usually go over and we can have a chat about how things are going. Even if he did view a virtual board, we'd miss out on those informal chats.

That all being said, my team is co-located. In a distributed environment, I'd be using a virtual board (as well as kicking and screaming to get my team co-located!).

share|improve this answer

I've used both, sometimes at the same time. It's pretty much a truism that it depends on your situation.

If your team meets the following criteria, you should go for the physical board:

  1. Everyone in the same place
  2. You have the discipline to create consistent cards, with the necessary relevant data
  3. You have other internal systems that make it easy to find relevant files and online discussions related to a card

It's easy to scribble down "revamp landing pages", but without data like "date of creation", "created by", "card #", it becomes difficult to manage and extract useful reporting.

A virtual board or ticket tracker can be really helpful if you can't meet those criteria, and has additional benefits that aren't really possible regardless of your discipline. It helps with reporting, allows for centralization of online conversations and it helps you keep necessary files and link to references.

A best of both worlds approach is to have a large TV screen to display the board during scrum meetings, and someone operating the computer to sort the cards in real time.

share|improve this answer

It is true that if you cannot cope with physical board, virtual one will not solve your problems either. Firstly it is a good start to do everything on physical one, also it keeps budget small. Later on when you will get bored of all the waste physical one creates, you can switch to the digital one. But keep in mind that it can cost you slightly more and of course it will need some sort of software to run with. I recommend reading some of the ideas from pratical use in my blog post about virtual boards here.

share|improve this answer

I've been involved in Scrum teams as SM or team member for 4 years. In 56 sprints, we used whiteboards. We loved it because face-to-face communication made us feel like being a part of a real team with real teammates focused on one aim.

In one team, we've used online scrum board almost for a year. The reason was simple: we had team mates distributed in other continents. We get the advangate of using online tools because using online tools increased the communication in the team.

So, here is my advise: It doesn't matter which one you select. Select the one that you think it will improve the communication and collaboration in the team better. Inspect. If it does not, then adapt and try again.

I have to share my last observation. If your team is experienced about Scrum, you won't feel and disadvantage by using online tools. But if your team is new to Scrum, I advise to use whiteboards. Online tools harm the culture you try to build much more than you expect.

share|improve this answer
    
How do online tools harm your company culture? That makes 0 sense to me. –  B T Oct 17 at 1:19
    
Online tools are great places to hide information. So if team is newly formed or trust is not established yet, people feel comfortable with online tools due to having limited or no face-to-face interaction with other people to hide information. I advice to use whiteboards for these situations to improve face-to-face interaction, to let the team resolve issues by talking and to improve trust. –  lemiorhan Oct 21 at 12:44
    
If you hired a huge anti-socialite, I can see that they'd be more comfortable communicating asynchronously. But no one has an incentive to "hide" information. If they wanted to hide it, they'd just not write it down at all. Online tools are not a replacement for things best done face-to-face, so if people are doing weirdo things like "hiding information" I'd say its not the tools that are the problem, but the leadership. –  B T Oct 21 at 21:36

Having been a Scrum coach and an Agile practitioner for more than 6 years now, I can tell you that we encourage physical boards for their ability to produce better team interactions and electronic tools for their ability to effortlessly track performance metrics. As an information management and measurement tool, physical boards are mediocre at best and certainly can't compete with electronic tools. As an interaction tool, they are far superior.

Why Physical Boards are Better for Interaction
In stand ups and planning sessions, physical boards are more fluid and less clunky than electronic ones. Changing the board simply involves walking up to it and moving things around. You don't have to be logged in at a computer to do it, there's no refreshing, synchronizing, or other technology induced awkwardness to deal with. It just works, and when you have a co-located team everyone can see it and change it in real time.

Of course when you have a distributed team and few (if any people) occupy the same space, a physical board will likely not be maintained and go to waste quickly. Like everyone else has said, do what works for the team and their current situation and if you can be co-located, the certainly do.

Why You'll Want Both
Now, I'll tell you why you really want both a physical board as well as an electronic one. You want the physical board for the effortless interaction, you want the electronic one because it can help your team track and improve its performance data. The synchronization tax is worthwhile and actually pretty minimal.

Recording precisely when tasks are moved by whom and what the impact on the related story is would be silly to attempt in any other way but by using an electronic system. In the perfect co-located world, maintain the physical board and sync it with the virtual one so you can see trends and do analysis on your data to understand bottlenecks and continually improve your team processes.

Consider Media Richness Theory
I like and completely agree with the other commentary on non-verbal communication and its importance. This falls directly in line with what we know about media richness theory - that some mediums of communication are more capable of conveying complete information than others. You have to choose, given your team's unique constraints what the richest available method of interaction is while recognizing and hopefully compensating for the costs of the method that you choose.

Make Your Physical Board the Easy Way
If you want the benefits of a Physical scrum or Kanban board without the headache of making one with whatever you have laying around the office, consider getting a professional, ready-made Kanboard from Kanboard.com. It's perfect for getting going quickly.

share|improve this answer

If you cannot do it manually with cards, pens and a wall then no system will help you.

Traditionally a lot of document hand-balling was done and people lost the art of communicating. Coaching the team to "really communicate" is hard work and should be the starting place.

Once you are successful with a physical wall done, you may want to consider virtual walls to help improve productivity especially when used in an ALM solution.

Thus, put in a virtual wall for the right reasons.

share|improve this answer

I think that you can't authoritatively assume that one of these solutions, online or a physical board is better. It isn't that simple. Team are not equal. Please, do not try to simplify the reality. Which tool is better? It depends on team. You should always try out different solution and then decided which one is better. One of the teams at my office works better with a web-based board because:

  • they work a lot with computers - so it's their natural environment
  • they have many team members
  • they work in different offices
  • they often work remotely

The second one works fine with physical board

  • they have a small team
  • they work next to each other
  • their are very young and they need to move

There is no "golden mean".

share|improve this answer

In my opinion, online board works better for bigger teams, which have their team located in several positions. If some changes are made they can be quickly informed, as opposed to a physical board where you would have to replicate those changes in some other way or gather the whole team to see the board.

Other argument in favor of online board is that notes can store much more information, you wont need as many different notes and the whole board will look "cleaner" and more understandable.

Online board, however, will be more costly and will probably take more time to set up, as you need some kind of software to run it.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.