The concept of the Scrum board is mentioned nowhere in the official Scrum Guide and yet, if you were to talk to a hundred Scrum Teams, the majority of them would tell you they use one.
As you will learn today, there are a number of reasons as to why Scrum boards are so ubiquitous, as well as a number of ways to do them. But when you really boil it down, it all comes down to the three pillars of empiricism that Scrum adopted as its tenets - transparency, inspection and adaptation.
Scrum Board Basics
Like we already mentioned - there is no mention of Scrum Board in the Scrum Guide and there is a very simple reason for this - Scrum does not prescribe anything about how the Scrum Teams actually organize and complete their work or which kinds of tools they use.
This is exactly what a Scrum Board is - a tool that can be extremely useful for Scrum Teams. More precisely, it is a tool that helps them visualize their work.
Some people prefer to call it a Story Board, a Scrum Task board, a Scrum Sprint board and so on.
A Scrum Board is divided in columns which denote the part of the workflow the individual items are at any given moment. The most basic Scrum Board will feature four columns. The first one will hold all the stories in a column that can be called Stories or Backlog or some variation of it. The next three columns will be variations of To Do (Sprint Backlog) - In Progress (being worked on) - Done (meeting the Definition of Done).
Of course, in true Scrum fashion, the Scrum Teams will modify and adapt their Scrum Boards depending on what suits their way of work best and what helps them the most. Many Scrum Boards will feature the Testing column or the Review column, for example.
And that’s really that.
Transparency. Inspection. Adaptation.
No matter what kind of a Scrum Board the Scrum Team uses, the ultimate goal is always the same - to have a tool that will help the team with transparency, inspection and adaptation.
Let’s imagine a “big” Scrum Team with, 8 members. They agreed on a Sprint and they have a Sprint Backlog they will be working on. Without a Scrum Board, it would take someone with superhuman abilities to even begin to remember who is working on what at any given time, how long the different stories are being worked on, whether there are bottlenecks of some sort and so on.
A Scrum Board allows everyone to have knowledge of this, at all times, with a single glance.
With a Scrum Board that is visible to everyone, the Team knows exactly who is working on what, how long people are taking on different stories, which parts of the workflow may be blocking other processes and so on.
This is transparency at its most, well, transparent.
The fact that the visual representation of the work being done is transparent to everyone also allows for immediate and comprehensive inspection. The Scrum Master is not the only one who can see when something is not working, like for example, when a certain story is being moved back and forth between the In Progress and Review columns. It is clear to everyone that something is happening there and someone can jump in and give a helping hand.
A cluttered column on a Scrum Board is an evident indicator of an impediment
Having the entire workflow of a Sprint represented so clearly visually can also help Scrum Teams inspect the bigger picture, so to say. For instance, a Scrum Team may feel like they are fully cross-functional, but a bottleneck that is often obvious from a Scrum Board may show the team that they may be lacking in a certain area and that another addition to the team might be of huge help.
When everything is transparent and inspection is easy to do, effective adaptation is just around the corner. A Scrum Board will help the Scrum Team actually see what effects their adaptive methods yielded. This can enable them to make and evaluate their adaptations within a Sprint, without having to wait for Reviews or Retrospectives.
Transparency, inspection and adaptation can also be used to improve the Scrum Board itself. The team will start with a certain Scrum Board and then, as they notice room for improvement, they will fine-tune it to be even more useful to the team.
Physical vs Digital Scrum Board
Some Scrum Teams use physical Scrum Boards drawn on whiteboards or cork (some teams take it up a notch), while others choose digital Scrum Boards that come as part of Agile project management software.
Physical Scrum Board
Physical Scrum Boards definitely have their selling points. Most importantly, a physical Scrum Board provides a focal point for the Scrum Team. Daily Scrums are held in front of the Board and the team members review their workflow together every day. It is also often the meeting place for individual meetings and discussions, making the team members more engaged in the work of the team as a unit.
In addition to this, the act of writing down stories the old-fashioned way (pen on paper) makes for a slower, more contemplative experience which can make the stories feel more concrete. Their journey across the Scrum Board can also feel more “real” as team members get up and move stories in front of everyone.
While some (usually smaller and fully co-located) Scrum Teams find a physical Scrum Board to be perfectly enough for them, there are also Scrum Teams that need more or that believe (and later confirm) they can become even better with additional Scrum tools - digital Scrum Boards.
Example of a digital Scrum Board in VivifyScrum
Digital Scrum Board
VivifyScrum’s online Scrum Board, for example, comes with a full suite of functionalities, options and statistics that can help a Scrum Team organize their work more easily and effectively while still not feeling like a chore.
Such scrum board software will enable an advanced overview of active Sprints, keeping everyone in the loop on the Team’s work and progress within Sprints and over longer periods of time. Advanced Product Backlog management can also help Product Owners and Scrum Teams refine their Product Backlog more effectively, guiding future iterations and identifying potential issues.
A digital Scrum Board such as VivifyScrum’s will also allow for more detailed stories (items, tasks) than are possible with physical Scrum Boards, streamlining the process and saving time for everyone involved.
It is much easier to add a file or a link to a digital story than to one on a physical whiteboard.
A detailed story example on a digital Scrum Board in VivifyScrum
With a tool like VivifyScrum, you can also get all kinds of interesting and useful data and statistics on the Scrum Team’s work (both current and historic). This makes inspection and adaptation even easier, always discovering new ways in which the team can become even better.
A digital Scrum Board also solves some of the inherent problems of physical boards.
For example, it can be quite difficult and clumsy for a team with distributed team members to maintain a single physical Scrum Board. With an online Scrum Board, the location of team members plays no role. The same goes for external stakeholders (like for instance an external, remote Product Owner) who can easily get an overview of how things are going, which is not the case with a physical Scrum Board.
A Scrum Board can be a powerful tool and ally to a Scrum Team, promoting transparency and enabling easier and quicker inspection and adaptation. Of course, it is important to remember it is only a tool and not an end to itself.
Scrum Board FAQ
What is a Scrum Board?
A Scrum Board is a tool that is used by most Scrum Teams. It is either a physical whiteboard or scrum board software organized so as to represent the various stages through which Product Backlog items (stories, tasks) move towards being “Done”.
What do I need to set up a Scrum Board?
It depends on the type of Scrum Board you choose.
For a physical Scrum Board, you will need a whiteboard of some kind (although any type of glossy surface will do), some sticky notes (us quality ones that won’t fall off in two days) and a marker. Of course, this is the very basic setup.
If you want to go digital, all you need is to sign up and build a free online Scrum Board in VivifyScrum.
How many columns should a Scrum Board have?
The most basic Scrum Board will feature 3 columns - To Do (Sprint Backlog), In Progress and Done. However, all Scrum Teams modify their Scrum Board to better suit their needs and it is not uncommon to find boards that feature 5, 6 or even more columns.
How to use a Scrum Board?
Every Scrum Team uses their board in their own way, supporting their own process. In general, however, you will have your Sprint Backlog in the first column, organized by priority and as the Development Team starts working on individual tasks, they will move them across the board to show their progress.
At any time, any member of the Team can check the board, see how the tasks are progressing and whether there are problematic items or aspects of the work where the team might join forces to remove the impediment.
Who edits the Scrum Board?
The Scrum Board is no one’s responsibility in particular. Everyone edits it as they work and the entire team can decide to add new columns or make modifications to the board if they will this will add more value to the team and its process.
What is a story on a Scrum Board?
Stories (or User Stories to use their full name) are one of the ways in which Scrum Teams describe the work they are doing to make a Product Backlog item “Done”. While they are the most common way to describe work, it should be pointed out that the Scrum Guide tells nothing about how the team will do this. As long as everyone on the team understands them, these descriptions of work can take any form.
From a practical standpoint, the stories will be the units that hold the description of the work and value and time estimates and that you move across the Scrum Board.
How to write a story for a Scrum Board?
Writing User Stories is a science and there are just so many differing opinions and approaches that we can’t get into it here. Usually, a clear description of the work to be done and its time and value estimates are enough for a start. As the team gets more experienced and mature, it will find its way to write stories (and not necessarily stories) that will add the most value to the process.
How to stop the Scrum Board getting overwhelmed?
Since the Scrum Board will usually be reset for a new Sprint, the only real danger of it becoming overwhelmed is by making it unnecessarily complex, adding too many columns and trying to put too much information on it. Remember, Scrum is all about direct communication and keeping things as simple as possible.
Author: Goran Prijić is the co-creator and Product Owner at VivifyScrum. He is also a Certified Scrum Master.