Although you can find a wide variety of agile project tracking tools on the internet, I am still a strong supporter of using a plain old corkboard (or whiteboard) instead, combined with either a truckload of index cards, or post-its.

Here are my reasons for sticking to a corkboard:

1 — Easier daily standups

It’s a lot more difficult and less efficient to have your daily standups around a computer screen than around a corkboard.

You could of course use a tool in combination with a projector, but this will introduce more overhead (connecting cables,…) and removes the focus from the main goal: adding value and increasing collaboration by discussing the actual work at hand.

In general, agile teams should definitely focus on the processes and the principles, instead of on the tools.

2 — Easy to update

You don’t need to log in to a corkboard before you can update a task or story. You can freely move it around on the board, or use a pen to update it. There’s no tool that can beat this kind of user-friendliness or flexibility.

3 — Agile atmosphere

Everybody can see someone else making changes to the board, whether it’s moving a story, or updating a story with a pen.
While some may call this distraction, I feel this contributes to a dynamic and agile atmosphere in the teamroom.

An ideal agile teamroom is typically a room in which:

  • all team members can see each other.
  • it’s easy for team members to move over to another person’s desk to start a conversation
  • there’s still room for having private discussions around a specific topic

I’d add to this list:

  • all team members can see the planning board from their seats, just by lifting or tilting their heads.

4 — Easy status checks

In my role as a coach/manager, I can clearly see current project status by looking at the board when I pass. I don’t have to log in, or ask time-wasting, distracting questions to the team members.

Reasons for using a tool

People might bring up additional reasons why they prefer a tool:

Reporting

Some managers might need additional reporting, besides the information visible on the cork board. Although this sounds like a fair argument, I feel that this is a sign of a potential deeper-lying problem:

  • management doesn’t seem to fully support agile methods, because they wouldn’t be needing these additional reports if they did.
  • The team isn’t meeting their commitments, or, even worse: isn’t making any.

When managers start to dive into the details and start to show signs of micro-management, it’s time to verify the overall agility of your teams and processes. A digital tool is not the solution to this kind of potential problems.

You could also try to debunk this statement by telling them that these additional reports aren’t shipped to the customer, and that they don’t contribute to the value of the product being built.

Hand-writing

“It takes me more time to write user stories on cards, then to type them in using a keyboard”.

This is probably true but I feel that the pro’s mentioned above outweigh this argument. In my opinion the best combination is to use a spreadsheet to capture the product backlog in a rudimentary state, and to move them over to index cards when they are prioritized and elaborated for the sprint.

Distributed teams

The single occassion in which I feel that a tool outranks the corkboard is when you’re working with distributed teams.

Conclusion: unless you are working with distributed teams, a corkboard is in my opinion the most efficient agile project tracking tool in the world.

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