The 5 strengths of a physical task board

There’s one question I always get when coaching a new agile team: “Can we use a digital task board?

My answer: “Sure you can, but …”

Because I don’t believe in imposing my ideas onto a team, I give them my view on things.

What does a physical task board offer me?

  1. A general overview of the current iteration.
  2. Indications of bottlenecks or impediments.
  3. A constant reminder of the iteration goal.
  4. Easy communication about features and scope during the daily standup (and the rest of the day).
  5. Triggering flow amongst different roles in a team.

Can I achieve this with a digital task board? Maybe if we could have a dedicated flat screen TV that’s big enough to keep every feature and task readable from a distance of 4 meters. If that’s not the case, don’t even bother. If you have to surf to a URL to look at your task board, you’re not getting the same benefits of an information radiator. The information is hidden and you have to look for it which means you won’t see it as much as you would when it was hanging on the wall in front of you.

The only situation where I would use a digital solution is when you’re working with distributed teams. But even then, the tool has to be flexible and lightweight. The team might want to change columns, use color codes, install WIP limits…

Why does every IT team ask this question? Is it because we’re technology geeks, and we can’t stand the thought to still be working with paper and pencil? Is this similar in other industries? Let me know by commenting to this post.

About Nick Oostvogels

Hi, I'm an independent management consultant. My biggest strengths are located in the fields of teamwork, motivation, leadership and continuous improvement. In the IT industry you find a lot of these values in the agile movement, in which I often act as a project leader, product owner or coach. My interests go a lot further, into other industries where we find these values in lean production. Besides that, I try to broaden my horizon as much as possible, always looking for better ways of doing business.

6 comments

  1. Pingback: Visual management versus / with tools « Nick Oostvogels’s Weblog

  2. Pingback: No place to hang up a taskboard? « Nick Oostvogels’s Weblog

  3. I get the same question. All the time. Not sure why either but I guess because we are used to the tools and they bring comfort by being familiar – and we are sure we will never lose information.

    One team I was coaching had been using an electronic tool several years and they were absolutely convinced it was a better solution than a physical board. After a long discussion I managed to get them to try a physical board for one Sprint at least.
    And they never looked back – it was so much better for similar reasons as those you have listed. One additional reason I believe is the increased interactivity that it brings. A meeting were people can move up to the board and change things right away usually feels more alive and less boring.

  4. Pingback: A Case For Electronic Whiteboards

  5. I worked with remote systems both as a scrum master for a scrum of scrums and as a scrum master of a team with people scattered across 4 different states.

    I can definitely relate to the ease of writing down directly with a real pen on a real piece of paper (I had someone thoroughly convince me of the beauty and creative value of using a moleskine notepad) .

    I do think digital taskboards, when properly implemented have clear advantages over a real taskboard for anything beyond a small project, such as the ability to easily move a task in and out of plan, tracking comments, tracking state, tagging, different visualizations (taskboard versus ranked versus work progress, etc) . Moving past visualization, you have computation aspects such as burndown charts and searchability that no physical taskboard will ever be able to match.

    Ultimately, more interactivity stems from the team being colocated rather than being fostered by the physical taskboard.

    >> Maybe if we could have a dedicated flat screen TV that’s big enough to keep every feature and task readable from a distance of 4 meters.

    Readability at that distance means you need a letter height of 1/2″ at least, and people need to get up from their chairs all the time to read the back of the cards 🙂

  6. Indeed, visualization is very important. It’s hard to beat a wall with post-its, but some software is evolving in the right direction. Thanks for your comment!

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