The Scrum Board: A Major Project Management Tool Made of Paper

What is a scrum board?

A living visualization of the work our team is doing in the current iteration. It is a series of small tasks moving from the Planned column, to In Progress, and eventually Completed. It is a great project management tool to empower teams to own tasks and communicate more frequently.

Figure 1: Our team’s beloved scrum board

scrum board

Every two weeks our team works on a series of features which we believe can be accomplished in those two weeks.  We break these features down into tasks and each task is printed onto a small card. Our team’s goal is to move all the cards to the “Completed” section within the two week period.

Figure 2: Tasks start off nice and printed…then are scribbled as new tasks come up.

tasks

Task Card Tips:

  • We keep the task name large and bold so it is easily visible
  • Below the task title is the feature name and it’s priority within the sprint
  • The owner we chose to leave blank and then hand write once claimed
  • Initial hours estimate by the team

 

Your team actually updates this?

Every morning for 15 minutes our team meets at the board to discuss where they’re at in their work. We move tasks from Planned to In Progress, In Progress to Completed. Our team goal is that by the end of our 2-week sprint we will have accomplished all of the tasks and stories.

…the developers too?

Yes! In fact they add cards whenever new tasks are identified too. Cards do not need to be limited to just developers either, everyone is eligible to own cards and see them through to completion. By limiting the pre-assignment of cards, we encourage individuals to support the team effort and not check off just their tasks.

Figure 3: Our cross-functional team at the stand-up.

_standup

What’s with the yellow line?

Cards above the yellow line are distinguished as recently updated and then tracked in a burn-down chart (also printed, displayed daily). Cards are then moved below the yellow line and grouped by feature to make the board easy to assess at a glance.

 

Why would I want to construct this when we are already tracking tasks in SharePoint/Excel?

Digital versions of a scrum board are not easily accessible or as present as a living board. The scrum board is a reflection (for better or worse) of the state of the project. All team members want to propel tasks across the finish line rather the pretend they do not exist.

Keep your teammates from spinning their wheels. When tasks run into dependencies, issues or blockers we place a brightly colored post-it on them with a short description. This helps quickly communicate problems to the team which can either be solved by us or need to be escalated to the appropriate person.

Since the board updated so frequently it becomes a source of truth about the project status, known as an Information Radiator.

However, scrum boards are difficult for teams working remotely to collaborate on but there are options such as Trello.com and Team Foundation Server.

 

Stop status reporting weekly; update the scrum board daily for everyone to see!

This is a burn-down chart from our current sprint. We email this to everyone on our development team and project sponsors every morning.

Figure 4: Sprint burn-down looking good below the red line

sprint burndown

11 Comments

  • Andy April 9, 2013 11:22 am

    On my current project, the Scrum board has been great to communicate the project status to the entire team and promote ownership of tasks.

    • Alex Foucre-Stimes April 9, 2013 12:34 pm

      Any pictures you can share?

  • John April 9, 2013 11:41 am

    Great post Alex, we’re using this with a client currently and it’s working great

    • Alex Foucre-Stimes April 10, 2013 8:47 am

      Our product backlog is currently managed in an Excel spreadsheet on SharePoint, but we are working to move it into JIRA.

      Our sprint backlog is all the tasks on the board, as a new task comes up, we make a new card. The stories for the sprint are on an adjacent wall.

  • Kaumil Dalal April 9, 2013 1:31 pm

    How do you keep track of your product and sprint backlog using the board?

  • Kaumil Dalal April 9, 2013 1:34 pm

    What is the process you follow when estimates need to be revised? How do you handle tasks that might not be possible within two weeks timeframe as the estimates have been revised?

    • Alex Foucre-Stimes April 10, 2013 8:57 am

      There are a number of ways to tactically approach revised estimates, but the larger win of the stand-up and Scrum board is that every day (or more) the team is looking at the tasks and re-evaluating if the tasks still makes sense, what the blockers are, and how can the team “scrum” it to completion.

      If a team is nearing the end of a sprint and it looks like the tasks cannot be completed, the harsh truth is that in Sprint planning the team agreed the stories can be completed and owns their estimates.

      • Dave Babicz April 10, 2013 11:29 am

        Another advantage, that Alex alludes to in his reply, is that precisely through the daily, shared inspection of progress in a standup, the trend towards completion (or not) can be identified early. It gives the team a chance every day to adjust their work to keep on track…a series of small adjustments continuously are easier than large adjustments late.

        When done correctly, the end-of-sprint situation Alex mentions comes up less and less. Earlier recognition that the team may have over-committed in sprint planning gives the scrum master a chance to mitigate this by, perhaps, negotiating the removal of an un-started backlog item back to the product backlog with the OK of the product owner.

    • Dave Babicz April 10, 2013 11:33 am

      An important differentiation in Agile vs. other project management methods is that in Agile, we’re focused on evidence-based planning. How close the team is to “done” for the sprint is the primary question we’re asking each day, not so much were their estimates accurate. Estimate accuracy is important, and a good topic for retrospectives when they prove to be far off. But delivery of the product increment in the timebox is the primary measure of success.

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