Agile Marketing Debate – Physical or Digital Scrum Boards

Posted 11/28/2016 9:30 AM by Jeff Julian

AJi’s Interactive Team is currently evaluating different software solutions to serve as our digital scrum board. Meanwhile, we are still using a physical board to organize our content marketing campaign following agile project management. Our hybrid approach works well for us currently, but in light of our ongoing attempts to perfect our content marketing planning, we thought it was appropriate to republish this blog post comparing digital and physical scrum boards.

Just like most writers prefer the paper book versus digital, I really do prefer the paper task board vs. a digital scrum board when I am working through my content.  I don’t mind the dual entry or the extra time spent clearing off cards and writing new ones.  In fact, I am known to create a card for a task that is complete, just to put it on the board and move it to the complete column. 

At the same time, I am 100% a technology adapted citizen of the world.  I have only completed three consecutive days without being on the Internet in the past few years and during that time, I still had my wearables gathering data about all the activities for the day.  If I can ever replace an old process or tools with a new shiny and digital version, I jump on it. 

New Technology

Getting started with Agile Marketing, you will be faced with some initial decisions that will shape the way you implement your tools for success.  One of those decisions will be whether you create cards for your Content Items and use Post-it® notes for your tasks and place them on a wall, or will you opt-in for the fancy digital scrum board on your iPad or browser.

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The decision may seem obvious for some.  Why would you use paper to document anything if there is a cheap and available online version, right? 

Well, I believe there are amazing benefits to both digital and physical scrum boards.  In this article, I will be talking about the Scrum agile process, but if you are using a Work-In-Process (WIP) approach like Kanban, you will still face this decision.

Review of a Common Sprint

Just to make sure we are all on the same page, let’s go through Scrum’s time box cycle called a Sprint.  At the beginning of the Sprint, your content team will gather and select work that the team agrees is possible to complete in the set time block.  A ScrumMaster, the process moderator, will assign the start date and end date for the Sprint, calculate the resources available, and pull Content Items of the backlog that will fit. 

After these items are selected, the team of Content Developers will break this larger item into assignable tasks.  If you are writing a blog post, you could have copy, review, graphics, headline, and other related tasks to complete the Content Item.  Once a task is created, the team should estimate the level of effort to complete the item, but no personnel assignments should be made.  Remember we are moving toward being Content Developers who can work on more than one type of content.

Adaptive Content Developers

On the physical or digital scrum board, your ScrumMaster will place all the Content Items and tasks in the Open Item column, and if you are ready to begin, run your first Standup Meeting

During the Standup Meeting, everyone stands around the board and lets the team know what they worked on since the previous meeting, what they plan on working on until the next meeting, and let the ScrumMaster know if there are any impediments.

This process continues until the Sprint is complete at the assigned end date.  At this point, all items that were on the left side of the scrum board in the Open Item Column will have worked their way through the In Process Column and landed at their final resting place in the Completed Column.

What is a Physical Scrum Board?

With a physical scrum board, the process above will be represented by placing a piece of paper or card stock on an empty wall using tape.  You can use a bare wall, whiteboard, or corkboard for the blank canvas for your project. 

Essentials for Physical Scrum Board

  • Tape – I find painters tape, scotch tape, or masking tape work the best.
  • Paper – If you can use card stock in your printer for templates, use this route.
  • Post-it® Notes – Go with the wide rectangular version rather than the square.
  • String – Colorful yarn or ribbon work well to break up the columns.
  • Scissors – You won’t use these much so worry about comfort too much.
  • Sharpies – Black pens work best and make sure you can read the writing from 5 to 10 feet away.
  • Stickers – Find a color for each member of the team to show who is working on the current items.  This will allow for quicker meetings to easily identify In Process work.

Once you have these items, you are ready to run your sprints. 

Pros and Cons of a Physical Scrum Board

As I mentioned above, I love the paper-based scrum boards.  I have been using Scrum for over 10 years and even though I have adopted both during that time, I use paper whenever possible. 

Pros

  • Cheap to create
  • Supplies are readily available
  • Easily viewable by visitors and stakeholders
  • Easy to clean and refresh
  • No software installation or configuration required

Cons

  • Paper falls off
  • Documentation can be duplicated
  • Wall gets dirty
  • Multiple teams cannot share space
  • Supplies need to be refreshed

Physical Scrum Boards

What is a Digital Scrum Board?

A digital board allows you to accomplish the Sprint examples using a computer or touch device.  At the beginning of the Sprint, the ScrumMaster will typically drag elements on the screen around to place an item in the time box and then create tasks will a few button clicks. 

During the Standup Meeting, the team will get near a computer, projector, or pass a tablet around and report their system.  You can do this in-person, on the phone, or using tools like Skype for Business. 

Agile Team with Digital Board

At AJi, we have built our own digital board machine using a 55-inch television with a touch overlay and a small computer mounted on the back.  We use both JIRA and Team Foundation Service for our software solutions.  The ScrumMaster and team can join a Join.Me meeting if they are remote and we pass controls to let each person either touch the screen or move the cards from their location.  We do these steps to try to make the digital scrum board feel more like the paper version so we get as many of the pros of each.

Software packages like Trello, JIRA, or Microsoft TFS can be used for digital solutions.  Most systems were created with software projects in mind so find the most flexible one possible that you can afford and is easy to maintain.

Pros and Cons of a Digital Scrum Board

These paper-based cons might make you run straight to a digital scrum board, but they too have flaws. Here is a list of a good side and bad side of digital task systems for Agile Marketing.

Pros

  • Great for teams who are remote
  • Once configured, easy to manage
  • No mess
  • Accessible in more than one location
  • Status is documented in reportable system

Cons

  • Higher cost of equipment
  • Not easily viewable by others
  • One person typically moves the cards rather than the team
  • Upgrades required and/or monthly cost
  • Must have power and the Internet

Digital Scrum Board

You Decide What is Best for Your Team

Just like the paper versus digital book debate, both types of scrum boards work and can be used to get the information across to the team.  I use both digital and paper-based boards and my preferences are subjective to my emotional attachments or what I have available to me at the time of running the agile process. 

I suggest you give both a try.  I like to start my new Agile Marketing Teams with paper during training and the first few sprints to get a feel for the process and then ask if they would like to keep going or look at digital options. 

Digital or Physical?

Whatever you decide for your boards, just remember to follow the agile principles and select your options based on what lets you deliver customer value, create a sustainable pace, deliver frequently, remain simple and adapt to change.

Want to learn more about our agile approach to software development and marketing? Contact AJi to learn how our process impacts web development, content marketing, and more.