Agile board setup and usage

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An agile board (also known as a Task Board) gives a team an easy way to understand at a glance what they’ve committed to in a sprint and what progress they’re making. The simplest version of this is a set of index cards and a whiteboard.

Setting Up

Story cards

Create one index card for each of the Stories in your Sprint. The front (unlined) side of the card has the name of the story, along with the estimate (in points).

The back of the card holds other information, such as acceptance criteria.

Whiteboard

Make three columns on the whiteboard, from left to right. Label them:

  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

Put all of your cards in the first column, with the most important at the top.

People markers (optional but highly recommended)

Create a marker for each of the people on the team. Each person only gets one – after all, you can only work on one thing at a time, right? You can use sticky notes, or magnetic markers on a metal-backed whiteboard.

Put these in the “To Do” column to start.

Putting it to work

Starting at the top of the “To Do”‘ column, determine who’s going to work on the first story card. That person moves the card into the “Doing” column and puts their marker on it. Repeat this until everyone has a task in the “Doing” column.

Don’t move things until you start working on them! That way lies madness.

Important Safety Tips

Don’t skip items

If you find yourself skipping items in the “To Do” column, ask why. They’re supposed to be in priority order, so why isn’t the team working on them in that order? If it’s a priority problem, have the Product Owner re-sequence them.

Only work on one thing at a time

You only have one marker for a reason: task-switching is inefficient. Unless you’re actually blocked, you almost always have things to do that will move the story forward. Do those and focus on getting the story to “Done.”

Stay on target

Once you pick up a story, stick with it until it’s “Done.” If you become blocked, indicate this by:

  • Turning the card sideways
  • Bringing it up in the next Standup

Respect the Sprint Plan

Make sure that:

  • There is a card for the work you are doing
  • That card is in the sprint

 

2 thoughts on “Agile board setup and usage

  1. Talley Sue

    I had to speak to someone on my team about this:
    “Only work on one thing at a time”

    We were in mega-crunch time, 8 people working, 3 things in the IN box. My deputy picked them up and walked off to distribute them to other people. Each one of whom was currently IN THE MIDDLE OF a task that was equally important, if not more important.

    I told her not to pick them up, leave them in the box, etc. I ended up having to get out of my chair and chase her down and take them out of her hands. And say, forcefully, “Leave them here where the next person who is free can see that they need to be done. If you give them to someone else who doesn’t finish first, then they will sit, and no one will know where they are.”

    I then had to have a convo w/ her the next day to say, “I am not ignoring those tasks, it is a deliberate and thought-out management tactic to leave all of the department’s tasks IN the In Box until someone is completely done with their current task and able to pick them up. Even if I am not here, and you are in charge, i do not want you to distribute tasks to people who already have one they are in the middle of.”

    i also have seen her pick up a new task as soon as it arrives, when she has one currently. And then I, who have free hands, don’t have -any- task because she has 3 of them.

    Sometimes she has hit a stopping point on Task 1, and is waiting and idle until she gets her answer. But even then, frankly, she should leave it for one of the 3 other people who have nothing in their hands.

    I’m going to have to read more about your sprint tactics–because that (a sprint) is exactly what a closing night at Glamour is. A sprint.

    Reply
  2. Kevin Matheny Post author

    Thanks, Talley Sue!

    Getting that point across to people is one of the hard things about my job. There is a sickness that we have, where we prize busyness above almost everything else. To be seen as working is more important than actually getting work done, which is just sad.

    I think your closing night is both like and unlike a sprint. One of the things I don’t like about the term is that it implies a brief period of speed that’s different from the normal pace. The reality is that teams who are working agile are spending 9 days out of 10 in the sprint, with a day set aside for ending one sprint and starting the next.

    So I think your closing night, which is an exceptional period of high focus, is unlike an agile sprint because it’s not “normal.” It is like an agile sprint, however, in that it’s a time box. You have only so many hours, and you have to ruthlessly prioritize. The presses will roll, and you will have things which have not been done, and that’s just reality. The key is to make sure that you got the most important things done, and as many of them as you can in the time you have.

    And that, of course, brings us back to focus, and not interrupting people.

    Reply

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