Agile, Kanban, pratical work

Electronic or Physical Kanban Board – Why Not Both?

Ever since we started using a task board, back in 2006 when we started using Scrum, the discussion about physical task board vs electronic task board has come up regularly. I have always favored the use of physical boards for co-located teams. In my opinion, you can never find a good substitue for the type of visual control, communication and collaboration you get when you use a physical board. Another compelling characteristics of these boards are of course that it is possible for anybody in the organization to get a fairly good overview of the current status of the project, just by looking at it for a few seconds 10 feet away

Consider context

That said, there are circumstances where a physical kanban board is not enough. Considering context is as important here as it is in other situations in software development. If you are working together with an offsite team, a popular trend these days, having a physical kanban board probably won’t cut it. In these kind of situations you may decide, and probably correctly so, to go for an electronic version of a kanban board. There are some really good products out there to choose from which can make communication across country borders a whole lot easier.

Our context is this: We have several small projects running in parallel in addition to maintenance work. In these projects we have a mix of onsite and offsite team members. As a result we’ve been using electronic kanban boards for tracking work in progress. But we feel that we have lost the overview perspective and some of the visual control we have had earlier. Not good at all.

Does it have to be black or white

No it doesn’t. In fact, I believe physical and electronic kanban boards can both serve a purpose, especially in a complex environment with several projects running in parallel. Hence:

Use a physical kanban board to get a total overview of the status of the ongoing projects and use electronic boards to track the details of each specific project.

Electronic tools are good at storing all the details about tasks, features or bug. Physical boards are well suited for getting an overview of several ongoing projects. By exploiting the strength of each of these tools we can get the best (well, at least something good) from both worlds. We have decided to go for both physical and electronic kanban boards. If it helps us improve, great. If it doesn’t, we will try something different.


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