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Analog or Digital Task Board? That’s the Question.

April 8th, 2010

As a project manager, the best tool I’ve come across to help me monitor and control an iteration is The Sprint Task Board. It strikes a perfect balance between expressiveness and visual feedback. One quick look is all you need to make a diagnose of the ongoing iteration. Yet, it contains most of the information needed to make informed decisions.

A drawn example of a task board, containing for instance a burndown-chart, sprint goal, and tasks.

The task board is absolutely invaluable and I’ll probably never do team related work without it again. The question, though, is whether to use a computerized or a real world one.

Henrik Kniberg recommends the latter. The following quote is from Henrik’s excellent book Scrum and XP from the Trenches.

We’ve experimented with different formats for the sprint backlog,
including Jira, Excel, and a physical taskboard on the wall. In the
beginning we used Excel mostly, there are many publicly available Excel
templates for sprint backlogs, including auto generated burn-down charts
and stuff like that. […]

Instead […] what we have found to be the most
effective format for the sprint backlog [is] a wall-based taskboard!

And there are good reasons for picking an analog task board. Maybe the most significant being:

  • Visibility. A wall-based dashboard is always up, always visible. If positioned near the team it’ll work as a constant reminder of the shape of the iteration.
  • Simplicity. Planning and re-planning is simply a matter of moving physical cards around, tearing them up or writing new ones.

In my current project we’re using an application (Scrum Dashboard on top of TFS). The reasons are:

  • Availability. Actually, this is the only reason for us to use a digitalized task board. We’re having dislocated team members from time to time (did I say we’re ScrumButs?) but since our dashboard is a web application they are able to access it remotely. It would be a lot more painful to relay the information otherwise.
  • Automatic burndown update. No need for me (or any one else) to do a work remaining summary and update the burndown chart each and every day.

What are your reasons? I’d be most interested in hearing your point of view on this subject.


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