The Scrum Board — An Out-Of-Date Piece of Junk or an Invaluable Productivity Tool?
While a great project management methodology on paper, Scrum has many issues in practice. One of the major ones concerns the Scrum board — a tool that’s supposed to help teams visualize and organize their work but quickly turns into a jumble of inconsistent, inaccurate, out-of-date information.
So, why do so many agile organizations still rely on their Scrum boards? Without one, it would be practically impossible to keep track of the progress on the project, and daily standups would turn into even scarier nightmares than they are today.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the concept of a Scrum board, address the most common issues with it, and provide you with an alternative that will help you turn your Scrum board into what it’s supposed to be.
The biggest oversight of the Scrum Guide
The biggest oversight of the official Scrum Guide, in our opinion, is that it fails to mention the Scrum board.
The guide goes into great detail explaining all the different roles in Scrum and all the various types of meetings that have to be held for the framework to function effectively. At the same time, it’s awfully flexible when it comes to the tools the organization implementing Scrum should rely on.
This is understandable — no project management methodology will tell you to “use Jira specifically, and nothing else.” Still, if a tool that lets team members keep track of the progress on the project is as necessary as it is in Scrum, forgoing any mention of it, even hypothetical, is a sign that the guide is incomplete.
The tool we’re referring to here is the Scrum board, obviously. The reason why we say this is a huge oversight on the Scrum creators’ part is that practice has shown that a Scrum board is a necessity.
Scrum wasn’t initially intended for large teams, but even in a team with less than ten members, keeping track of all the work without a unified source of information is a nightmare.
Just imagine what your job as a team leader would look like if you:
- Didn’t have a tool that would allow you to monitor the progress of the project
- Couldn’t see which tasks your team is working on
- Didn’t have an overview of completed to-dos
You’d probably spend the whole day running around the office, tapping each dev on the shoulder every 30 minutes, and asking them for status or progress reports. Even then, you’d have to write things down in a notebook or on a post-it since you’d forget what the first dev was working on by the time you got the update from all of them.
A bad Scrum board is better than no Scrum board — or is it?
The fact that you can’t expect people to remember or constantly recall what they’re working on is the reason why Scrum boards exist in the first place. They were created out of the sheer necessity for documentation and the need for a comprehensive data/information repository.
So, what is a Scrum board, and what purpose does it serve in an agile organization?
The best way to describe a Scrum board to someone new to this agile framework would be to say that it’s a visualization tool and an information hub. At its core, a Scrum board is a tool that allows agile teams to visualize and keep track of the work on the project.
By “tool,” we don’t mean a specific piece of software. A Scrum board can be a physical whiteboard if that works for a particular organization. Some organizations even consider their project management software as their Scrum board.
It’s not uncommon for different organizations to refer to the Scrum board as a Scrum task board, a Scrum sprint board, a Scrum wall, etc. Regardless of what you prefer to call it, a Scrum board is an invaluable tool — or at least it should be — for companies that organize their work in sprints.
The problem with Scrum boards lies in the fact that simply having a Scrum board doesn’t solve anything. Teams that do have a Scrum board most often rely on their project management system, such as Jira, Asana, or Trello, to act as one.
The problem with Jira and similar software is that it is never up to date! The Scrum board provides absolutely no value to your organization if the information is:
- Not up to date
It doesn’t help that Jira comes with its own set of bugs and issues — the most common one being the fact that closed or resolved issues tend to appear in the Scrum backlog.
So, to answer the question posed in this section — no, a bad Scrum board is pretty much useless. Simply having a Scrum board doesn’t do anything to help increase the team’s productivity or speed up the delivery time.
With an inaccurate Scrum board, you’re back at square one — the Scrum master has to bother the devs constantly, and the execs will expect detailed status reports in daily standups.
|No Scrum board vs. a bad Scrum board|
|No Scrum board||An out-of-date Scrum board|
|Lack of information flowNobody knows what stage the project isDevs are constantly interrupted and asked to give status reportsIt’s impossible to assess how good the current processes are and what areas need to be improved||Provides inaccurate information that hinders productivityExecs have the wrong idea regarding which stage the project is inDaily Scrums turn into lengthy and boring status reportsIt can appear as if nothing is working as intended, making it impossible to optimize processes|
Without an effective Scrum board, the entire framework crumbles
The main reason why Scrum isn’t working or isn’t producing the desired results for most organizations is the lack of information flow. In an ideal Scrum environment, the Scrum board should be the backbone of the framework — it should enable easy access to all the relevant information for everyone involved in the project.
This doesn’t mean that a Scrum board should merely provide an overview of all the tasks the team is working on. An effective Scrum board does much more than that — it allows you to see the project backlog, to-dos, work in progress, and completed work.
Apart from that, a good Scrum board should also show you whenever someone is blocked so that you can take action and remove any obstacles that are preventing them from moving forward with the task.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in practice. We don’t know a single company who’s Jira is up to date every single day. That said, we can’t put the blame on the devs — they already have their hands full updating the tasks in Git, asking them to do that in Jira as well would be telling them to do each menial task twice.
The problem is, the vast majority of executives can’t read Git. As a result, organizations that rely on their project management software to act as a Scrum board often find themselves in the same boat as those that don’t have a Scrum board at all.
Daily standups tend to drag on for hours, and they turn into status reports that everyone hates. This wastes a ton of everyone’s time. Think about how much work never gets done because the devs have to sit through boring meetings that do absolutely nothing for them.
Let’s say an organization has ten devs, and daily standups last an hour on average. That’s 50 hours of work lost every single day. In the time it would take all the devs to write down, recall, and explain what they’ve worked on each day, they could develop half a dozen new features and be well on their way to meeting the sprint goals.
At LinearB, it’s our mission to put an end to these useless status meetings and turn daily Scrums into what they are supposed to be — short, to-the-point meetings that help people work more efficiently.
Why do devs hate meetings so much?
Most execs have the wrong impression that all devs, by default, despise meetings. This is only partially true. We would slightly rephrase this and say that “devs hate useless, boring meetings that waste their time and interrupt their work.”
“Too many meetings” is not a complaint. It’s a cry for help.
Let’s face it — the way daily Scrums are conducted nowadays, most of them are absolutely useless from the developers’ perspective. Sure, the product owner, manager, VP, and other execs get to ask their dumb questions and receive the status reports, but is that all there is to daily standups? Should devs view them as a necessary evil and just stop complaining, or is there something we can actually do about the situation?
The short answer is — yes, there’s a lot we can do about it. Before we give you a concrete solution, we want to briefly explain why Scum boards and daily standups as they’re implemented today lead to a plethora of problems.
The fact of the matter is, it’s not the meetings themselves that the devs dislike. What the vast majority of developers will agree upon is that they don’t like:
- Having their work delayed
- Doing/saying the same thing twice
- Missing deadlines because other people aren’t respecting their time
- Not being able to talk about the issues and blocks that are preventing them from completing a task
Devs can finally catch a break, thanks to COVID-19
Most, if not all, of the issues above arise from the lack of a unified source of information. If the execs had access to accurate, regularly updated information, all in one place, there would be no need for them to ask for status reports every day. They would know what everyone’s working on and how the project is progressing at any given point in time.
This is why a properly organized, comprehensive Scrum board is a necessity and not a luxury!
These exact reasons that we listed above are what prompted us to develop LinearB — a platform that connects the two worlds — execs and devs — by correlating the information from Git and Jira (and other PM software) to ensure maximum productivity.
Our goal is to help reinvent the Scrum board and daily standups. We strive to do this by:
- Providing teams an automated, comprehensive dashboard
- Eliminating the need for useless status reports
- Allowing everyone included on the project to see exactly what the Scrum team is working on, what’s been completed, and who is blocked and requires assistance
Revamping Scrum in this way helps organizations focus on what truly matters and allows the devs (and everyone else in the company) to get back to work faster.
That’s what we believe a Scrum board should be — an invaluable tool that helps you visualize your work, monitor everything in real-time, optimize your processes, and increase delivery speed.
What makes a Scrum board effective?
As a project management methodology, Scrum rests on three pillars:
With that in mind, a good Scrum board should support these pillars and enable organizations to implement them in their day-to-day business operations.
Transparency — It’s vital that every member of the Scrum team has access to all the necessary information that can potentially impact their work. If you rely on someone else to complete a certain task, before you can start working on your own, your first instinct would be to keep bugging them every 15-or-so minutes.
With a “transparent” Scrum board, such as the one LinearB provides, you can monitor the progress of each task and get real-time updates whenever work on a specific task is completed. That’s just one example. You can use advanced filters to fully customize the dashboard according to your needs.
Inspection — One of the core ideas of Scrum is the continuous improvement of processes. It is impossible to achieve if you don’t have accurate insights regarding what your organization’s processes look like today. A good Scrum board should, therefore, enable the higher-ups in the organization to see what everyone is working on and what blocks they encounter during each sprint.
This helps streamline daily standups as well, by revamping them from status reports to meetings where people discuss the issues they might be having, get help, and share ideas on how to improve the existing processes.
We propose a new version of daily Standups — you can read more about it in our Stand-Up 2.0 article.
Adaptation — It’s impossible to implement new things and tweak existing processes if you don’t know what areas you need to improve. What’s equally as important is being able to keep track of how the new iterations are affecting the team’s overall performance.
With features like cycle time, iteration management, action filters, risk branches, and more, LinearB makes adaptation as simple and easy as it ought to be.
Physical vs. digital Scrum boards
Scrum boards can be physical boards, as well as digital — software dashboards.
While there is no general consensus regarding which type of Scrum board is better, we’re leaning heavily towards the digital ones.
Physical Scrum boards have their own merits, though. For starters, they can be a focal point during daily standups — team members can gather in front of a whiteboard or a wall and see the tasks and issues they’re discussing.
The stories also feel more real as they are tangible — actual pieces of paper or words on the board that have to be physically moved or rewritten. The trouble is, this takes time, and daily standups turn from 15-minute minutes into half-hour drags in a blink of an eye.
Physical Scrum board
Digital Scrum boards, despite not being as “tangible” as physical ones, are much easier to manage and update. Devs are updating their tasks on Git anyway, so why would they have to stand up after each task to move a post-it note from one place on the wall to another? That’s annoying at best and extremely disruptive at worst.
With LinearB, Scrum teams don’t have to worry themselves with such trivialities. The devs can simply update their tasks in Git, and our platform automatically pulls the data from it and correlates it with Jira to provide a quick and easy overview of individual tasks and the project as a whole.
|Physical vs. digital Scrum boards|
|Physical Scrum board||Digital Scrum board|
|Makes the project and the sprint appear more tangibleCan act as a focal point during daily standupsTakes a lot of effort and is a pain to maintain||Provides quick and easy access to project informationCan be referenced during daily standupsCan provide a skewed perception of the progress on the project if it isn’t up-to-date|
The Scrum board of the future
We’re working on building the Scrum board of the future — well, not necessarily a Scrum board, but a dashboard that will be an invaluable resource for agile organizations.
We’ve personally experienced all of the issues with Scrum that plague the majority of organizations to date. That’s why we made it our mission to create a comprehensive standup dashboard that facilitates the implementation and ensures the results of Scrum, Kanban, and other agile project management methodologies.
LinearB is a tool created by developers for developers.
That said, we don’t think that we’ve got it all figured out and that we’ve created the perfect tool that will be the optimal solution for every single organization, regardless of their unique situation.
That’s why we immensely value your feedback. We’d love to hear our opinion on which approach your organization would prefer:
- A people-based standup dashboard
- A project-based standup dashboard