Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Tale of Tasks Boards and Electronic Project Planners

Using electronic tools for agile planning initially seems like a great idea:
  1. You have access to it anywhere you have access to the InterWeb,
  2. You save environmental resources because you don't have to print things out,
  3. You can quickly search through requirements since there is a DB,
  4. Auditing and revision tracking can be applied so you can see what changed and pose the question to someone--why did you change to that?
  5. You have a backup.

The problem with electronic planners is that:
  1. They are easier to ignore than a big task board.
  2. They are hard to use by a group during a meeting.
  3. They don't allow spacial organization where task boards can have layout schemes that fit the problem at hand.
  4. They suck the energy out of the users. The activity of getting up out of your chair and moving things around on a wall gets the blood and energy flowing.
  5. They aren't as flexible. Task boards are limited to the imagination where electronic tools are limited by the code.
When I started doing eXtremeProgramming in 1999, we only used a task board. Today, many projects I work on use tools like Rally because nine times out of ten, we work with an off site product owner. This sucks and slows us down, but using Rally gives the product owner a way to manage the backlog.

Using Rally becomes an impediment to teams which are co-located. When the product owner and team can meet face to face to do release planning, backlog grooming, or sprint planning, physical cards allow work to get done faster and with more energy than an electronic tool. Remember a principle of agile is interaction over documentation, and fiddling with Rally is much less interactive and quickly feels more like a document review than a discussion over acceptance criteria on a story.

It's critical that electronic planning tools make it easy to convert to physical collateral which can be worked with in our three dimensional space where it can be slapped on a wall via a sticky, (or a card with tape) and moved around.

This isn't easy to do in Rally. But it is possible. Watch for my upcoming posts on this topic.

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