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Rethinking the Agile board

The Agile board has been in use for years and is a primary resource for daily communication within an Agile team. Over the years I have seen many variations of the agile board both in physical and digital format but the premise is always that it is a board with some form of card/post-it note to indicate tasks. I have always wondered whether this is the best form for the board or whether we have merely adopted it because it was the first design that came along. For instance, why can't we have a horizontal table or a dedicated "war room" as a metaphor?

I recently facilitated a workshop at Agile Cambridge with Ernst Kretschmann with the intention of exploring other design options with participants. The workshop was designed into four agile iterations of:

  1. Identify the key issues using Affinity mapping.
  2. Develop some ideas that address those issues.
  3. Prototype an alternative board design.
  4. Pitch your idea to the rest of the workshop.

 

Identify

Participants were first asked to identify all the pros/cons of the existing agile boards they used via affinity mapping. This exercise highlighted some issues we were aware of but also issues that we had not thought of.  Some of the key issues were:

  • Lack of progress on cards which were in the "doing" column e.g. you can't see how many story points have been done.
  • Collaboration on stories between team members is not visually apparent on a board.
  • Often stories get passed between phases e.g. they go to testing and then come back but its not visually clear what is happening with that story.
  • Visibility of the board is always a problem. The digital disconnect when teams are geographically dispersed.
  • Maintenance of the board can be tedious.

There were many more....

 

Ideation

For the second iteration we showed participants a hint of what is possible without trying to influence the design too much. Potential alternatives already exist such as the Bit Planner calendar built with Lego bricks. Participants really got stuck into the redesign and used much of the materials we had provided as inspiration. The four teams decided to purse the following ideas:

  1. Using the metaphor of  hurdlers in a race, where each competitor stands in for a story.
  2. A motorway built up in Lego, where each carriageway is reserved for one story.
  3. Planets are used as a metaphor for iterations.
  4. A multi-coloured plasticine creature represents each story. The creature is evolved while the story progresses, with colours symbolising collaboration and a finished creature means that the story is done.
IMG_4424
The planetary orbits team coming up with their great idea.

 

Prototype

In this iteration, participants built their initial ideas and developed these into tangible designs. We provided a range of materials to inspire and aid the building process. As expected the original ideas deviated as the build went on and improved considerably.

Minecraft screen
Minecraft as a design material.

 

Pitch

In the final iteration, participants explained their creation and what problems they tried to solve.

Group 1: Runners in a race

Using the metaphor of runners/hurdlers in a race, where each competitor stands in for a story. The runner is built up with Lego Duplo blocks in several horizontal coloured layers, where each colour stands for one collaborator on the story. The hurdles visualise transitions and handovers. The track had a shortcut exit as a window of opportunity to change the story, split it, park it or amend it.

Group 2: Motorway race

The motorway race provided each team member with a track. As a story moved across their track one could see what progress was being made on the user story even while they were working on it.

Group 3: Quantum atomic model iterations

The orbiting planets turned into orbiting atoms. Stories could transition across orbits.

Group 4: Plasticine animal gamification

The plasticine creation allowed users to build a plasticine model as they travelled across the agile board. More plasticine would equal = more work and collaboration.

 

IMG_4430
Pitching the Lego duplo build.

 

IMG_4422
Plasticine creations for user stories. They get built as the story progresses through the "pipeline".

 

IMG_4426
Motorway stories... each team member has their own track.

I am running these workshops for teams to help them identify and solve communication problems related to the agile board. Get in touch for a quote.