Why a techie like me, likes to work with a physical scrum board

Since 2003 I’ve been working in tech, at first as a developer and eventually ending up as an Agile Coach / Product Owner. When I started working with Scrum in 2008 it was very natural to use a physical scrum board. The amount of tools were limited and we didn’t really know yet what we needed. It turned out this was a great choice and that company is still using physical boards. As I left the company and get to look around I saw more teams working with a digital scrumboard. But since I had seen the potential of a physical scrum board I’ve been nudging teams to try a physical board. A very common question I get from my fellow technical colleagues is this:

Why wouldn’t you use an application to manage your scrumboard, don’t you think digital is better?

Well in fact, I don’t. Actually there’s some scientific proof that working with physical objects will give more meaning to what you are doing (see this excellent video http://youtu.be/wPFA8n7goio).

Physical scrumboard

But in this short blog I want to get into the things I have seen myself and I challenge you to let me know what you think. So leave other suggestions or comments if you disagree.

Reason 1. Feeling of achievement

Whenever I move a post-it or index card from one column to another it gives me a real feeling of accomplishment. Whenever I drag something across my screen that just feels like another silly piece of administration. No one will probably even notice, so this really tough task just sits in another column, big deal.

Reason 2. Transparency

A physical taskboard on a wall, in the middle of a team room is the best way to get attention. Of course a video wall will also draw some attention, but will you take a red marker and make a big exclamation mark next to the task that really needs some attention? Everyone can just walk in and see what’s happening. You don’t need access to a certain system or permission to view a certain project or board, everyone can see by just going into the room.

Reason 3. Adaptability

Like using a red marker to point out an impediment, there’s all sorts of customizations possible, like custom avatars, different meanings for different colored cards, different meanings for different angles of a card, swimlanes over only some columns etc. A system can only do so much, with a board, sciccors, markers and paper you can make anything.

Scrum card for physical scrum board

Reason 4. Ownership

One of the most important reasons if you ask me. A team can make a physical board their own. And by making the board their own they are making the work on it their own. I’ve never seen two exact the same physical boards, the amount of similar digital boards are clear proof that they feed the feeling of, why should I care to make it mine?

Reason 5. Creativity

Physical boards foster creativity. In the first place to find a good spot for the board, in the second place by making it your own. Those custom avatars don’t make themselves, nor do those great looking working agreements.


Winner of thoughtworks best cardwall (https://www.thoughtworks.com/insights/blog/and-winner-best-card-wall)

There are probably more reasons, but I find these the most common ones. I do understand there are some good reasons for a digital taskboard as well. And I even admit that there are some disadvantages for a physical taskboard. The latter is the reason our company is constantly working on making a physical taskboard that removes all disadvantages.

You experienced another good reason to use a physical scrum board? Leave a comment! 🙂

4 thoughts on “Why a techie like me, likes to work with a physical scrum board

  1. motorollie says:

    Nice blog, I think most of it is true and I already knew it, but never actually thought about it 😉

  2. Richard Bell says:

    @craiglarman talks about the evolutionary comfort we all feel collaborating around something about the size of the average cave wall but I would go further (without any particular scientific evidence): the human mind will implicity distrust anything that is only perceived through a single sense (e.g. viewing something on a computer screen). Better would be a format where real things are represented by other real things (e.g. index cards) that are visible, tactile, audible (when they are moved across the board) and even olfactible (the smell of the ink)!

  3. Mallory says:

    Nice tool. Would have been even better if it was customizable for our own workflow (Like Analyse (IP and Done) Dev (IP and Done) QA/TEST (IP and Done) and Done)…

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