Are we bored of boards?

Title:  Are we bored of boards?
Outcome: An understanding of how in the right environment the two can be aligned. 
TLDR
: Use physical, use virtual, use both but always adapt to receive real value.

This head to head battle is undoubtedly worthy of its own feature film. It’s long winded history and countless cameo blog appearances over the years have cemented its position amongst my top three most frequently asked questions – The underlying plot; Physical or Virtual and can you fully utilise one without the other?

It’s no secret that both present notable advantages and disadvantages, and to clear things up, don’t worry this isn’t another monotonous post aimed at uncovering those. For that there are plenty of existing articles & blog posts, all with the same fundamental points, just worded slightly differently. (See the footer for some handy further reading)

Instead, the outcome of this post is to essentially identify and discuss the current trend I’ve witnessed evolve which is, why use one when you can use both? Let’s call this the hybrid approach; there is a caveat to this which unfortunately is often an all too real reality, for clarity let’s title this The Dead-Ban.

Dead-Bana confused Kanban implementation, traditionally adopted by those in fear of losing their only visual indicator of agility in practice.

Now, disclaimer, my definition of the Dead-Ban is specifically worded for the scenarios I have personally witnessed and therefore is not a true representative for all possible usages. This scenario is the culmination of several key violations resulting in the physical board becoming obsolete –instead of accepting or combating this reality instead the board remains and the constant issue of synchronisation is kept out of kilter.  There’s not one sole root cause for this fairly rare occurrence, it can be anything from team understanding or lack of coaching to management’s buy-in, support or encouragement.  Whatever the cause of the problem the board proudly sits at the centre of the mantelpiece, receiving a mandatory dusting every now and again. At the end of the day, how else are you meant to demonstrate that you’re agile?

Not to mention any names, but perhaps 18 months ago I was fortunate enough to attend a course facilitated by a widely respected figure in the agile community. I presented this rather dull question, one I’m sure he’s had the displeasure of answering numerous times. Surprisingly his answer still sticks with me today and directly references one of the Lean principles, he stated “Use one or the other, duplicating effort (overproduction) is essentially waste’.

Fair enough, right? Now at this point in my career my knowledge and confidence were pretty measly, so challenging a subject matter expert with 30+ years’ experience on his point was about as common to me as a garden gnome is to the arctic – thankfully gnomes have now surfaced in the arctic.

So is he right? Well, he’s not wrong in the broadest sense, but I personally believe this combination can be beneficial (in certain environments). I can already hear the pitchforks being sharpened – please don’t lynch me. The opposite of value is, waste. So the glaringly obvious question arises, are we gaining enough value as a team by duplicating our efforts? Let’s inspect.

Now, I know a few paragraphs ago I stated this wasn’t another black and grey, advantages and disadvantages post, but how better to reflect value than a concise selection of the pros and cons, besides I’ve yet to see a summary in relation to using both simultaneously – groundbreaking stuff.

Pros

  • Flexibility to attend the stand-up in person or virtually.
  • Accommodates for part time work from home environments.
  • Metrics can be easily automated using data from the virtual board whilst advantages of using a physical board still remain.
  • Gives everyone the ability to view the current state of play whenever & wherever.
  • Mirrored workflows allow for easier syncing across boards.
  • Ability to share the conversations you have on the virtual board via comments etc.
  • Can display the board on larger monitors at various areas of the office.
  • Using new technology (Surface Hubs) you are able to physically interact with the virtual board.
  • Additional integration with build environments can be beneficial.
  • Additional integration with peer reviews can be beneficial.
  • Can have multiple boards created for differing purposes – for example, a physical board aimed at the story level and the virtual for the developer’s

Cons

  • Requires a lot of discipline from all team members.
  • Both boards need up keeping in order for effective use.
  • Can easily remove human interactions.
  • If one board is out of kilter it can be confusing as to which is the source of truth.
  • Any change requires both boards/workflows to be amended
  • Unless you have a consistent ceremony pattern it may be confusing as to which day you are using the physical and which day the virtual.
  • Can be costly to employ two boards – more equipment needed etc.
  • Audio connectivity can be a huge issue with attending virtual ceremonies.
  • Harder to configure the boards, workflow issue types etc.

Back to the question at hand, are we gaining enough value? There’s no right or wrong answer to this, it’s purely subjective. I’ve personally worked with teams who prefer the physical, teams who prefer the virtual and teams who adapt to use both. In all scenarios, the teams are content with the interactions and processes in place and constantly discuss in order to improve on any difficulties they face. Humans and interactions over processes and tools, being the key statement here – it’s vital that we don’t get lost in all the new gizmos, above all remembering that the way we communicate with the team on a daily basis isn’t one to be overlooked and neglected.

Other related blog posts and articles:

http://www.agileweboperations.com/kanban-boards-physical-or-electronic

http://blog.nwcadence.com/kanban-boards-physical-or-virtual/

http://www.dkrimmer.de/2014/07/11/combining-pm-tools-with-physical-boards/

http://www.mattkimber.co.uk/working-with-both-physical-and-electronic-progress-boards/ ( I spoke to Matt recently about his post and he highlighted an all too real limitation which I had overlooked – some teams, unfortunately, don’t have space or buy-in for a physical board)

https://spartez.com/blog/2016/01/08/why-physical-and-digital-boards-are-awesome (a popular JIRA plugin that is meant to aid having two boards, but actually encourages & promotes waste – but a cool idea nonetheless )

https://earlyandoften.wordpress.com/2010/12/07/scrum-walls/ (2010 example of the hybrid approach using older common technologies such as Microsoft excels etc.)

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