Physical Wall Boards are King for Agile – Keep it Simple

If you haven’t had a chance to get on over to to the Visual Management blog, get yourself over there. Xavier does a fantastic job of outlining how to make some killer Scrum task boards.

Physical task boards just make sense. The ease of visually seeing work go through the process allows teams to collaborate and speak to issues as they arise. Also, a daily standup in front of the task board makes your daily Scrums flow much nicer.

We review a ton of Agile tools. But even so, we’re still huge advocates of a physical wall.

Mike McGarr recently posted a fair article on the synthesis between a physical and virtual wall. It’s worth a read for those that know a bunch about JIRA and how to use this tool in conjunction with a physical wall.

Having used JIRA pretty extensively, I’m not fully convinced that Mike’s methodology is the best, but if it works for them, then that’s absolutely fantastic. Agile isn’t about fitting your organization to a method. It’s about fitting what makes sense to your environment. Mike’s team is using JIRA and a physical wall with success, so that’s win-win!

I’d like to know how others manage the virtual and physical wall. What works and what doesn’t?

Below is a TED topic by Tom Wujec about how the brain understands visual processes. Worth a look. I think the video enforces the value of a physical wall, or, at least can be a discussion topic and conversation starter.

[HT: EarlyAndOften]

20 Responses to “Physical Wall Boards are King for Agile – Keep it Simple”

  1. Lisa Crispin
    February 4, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    When one of our team members moved to India, we started using an online Scrum board tool. We hated it. It was too slow to update ‘cards’ during meetings. Even tho we projected it on the wall during standups, it didn’t have the same visual impact. Our board is more than a tracking device – we stand next to it and have conversations, like the office water cooler. We write on cards and wave them around and move them. It’s a wonderful communication device.

    So after 2 years of suffering the online tool, the team rebelled and put the old physical board back up. What about our remote teammate? We take high-res photos of it every day and post them on the wiki. He says that works great for him too.

    • peter
      February 4, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Lisa! Great example here. Physical wallboards are still king. They are the place for conversation to happen

  2. George Dinwiddie
    February 4, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Another technique for when a team is split in two or more locations, is to maintain a physical board at each location. When moving an item, the teams coordinate and move it on all boards. This often happens at the daily standup.

    • peter
      February 4, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      Great advice as well George!

  3. YvesHanoulle
    February 4, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    I have a blog post on how a physical board can be used with a distributed team:

    • peter
      February 4, 2011 at 10:27 am #

      Nice. Same picture too!

      • YvesHanoulle
        February 4, 2011 at 10:52 am #

        yesp, we ‘stole’ it from the same source. I actually worked with Xavier. I decided not to use one of my pictures so that his work had more mentions.

        • peter
          February 4, 2011 at 11:11 am #

          Sweet deal. His stuff is great!

          • YvesHanoulle
            February 4, 2011 at 11:13 am #

            Xavier is also a sweety, just don’t tell him, it would ruin his reputation.

  4. Ashley Wali
    February 4, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

    We use an online tool for our engineers, and a physical board for our non-engineering team members (interaction designers, user researchers, and business data analysts). The engineers love their tool, but it didn’t work for the other roles on our teams. We wheel the board into a videoconference room for daily standups, and send a picture to our virtual team members each day.

    The response to going back to the physical board for our non-eng teammates has been quite positive…for us, it seems that it’s a win for certain roles.

    • peter
      February 4, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      Glad to hear! These are always good stories. I’ll tell yah. Physical wallboards are KING!

  5. Andy Barratt
    January 27, 2012 at 6:23 pm #

    In the past week, I got sick of using stickies on my computer to keep track of things so I ended up making my own website that I could access anywhere, really handy for showing my agile board to my honours project supervisor on my tablet. I’ve really tried to keep it as simple as possible like the real thing and would love to know what you think of it :)

    p.s. I understand if you delete this post, it does sound a bit spammy XD

    • peter
      January 27, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

      Cool. I may just review it!

      • Andy Barratt
        January 28, 2012 at 6:17 am #

        Oh cool, that would be awesome to get feedback from someone who knows what they’re talking about :)

  6. Iain Brown
    July 1, 2012 at 8:08 am #

    I’ve just come through a new Scrum implementation at work, and whilst we tried really hard not to go searching for tools to aid in the process, I guess our innate search for things to be better and more efficient kicked in, and after 2 or 3 sprints we were on the lookout for a tool that at the very least would mirror the physical board.

    I spent an awful lot of time evaluating tools, and I couldn’t find anything that didn’t involve some kind of compromise in the way we were working, so in the end we stuck with the physical board, and mirrored the data in a Google Spreadsheet.

    If you’re interested in our journey, or just want to check out the spreadsheet, the details are here :

    • peter
      July 2, 2012 at 12:35 am #

      Interesting… will take a look!

      Looks like a fun journey!
      Best to you!

  7. Aaron
    June 10, 2014 at 5:56 pm #

    Great post about the value of analog boards! I couldn’t agree more. After helping a number of teams implement Scrum boards using tape and dry erase boards, I decided to see if I could take a more ready-made, professional and consistent approach. The results can be seen at Check it out!


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