I’ve seen a lot of attempts to convert Agile whiteboards like this into software…
And, in my opinion, they’re all crap.
Here’s an example:
Sure it looks nice. And looking nice is what fools you into thinking that it does something useful, when in fact it doesn’t. It adds absolutely no value to the manual whiteboard that you can’t get from an Excel spreadsheet, or a simple list in Notepad, and it removes a vast amount of value.
No wonder Agile guys shun software project management tools.
How did I come to realize this?
Because I built that nice looking screen as a prototype exercise for our Exia Process product. You can read about the ideas behind it here. I even got excited about it when a software guru friend of mine whose opinion I respect a lot, Barry Gervin from ObjectSharp, said it was fantastic. We both fell into the same trap of thinking that what we were really onto something not only cool and slick, but useful.
So what’s the problem?
The problem is what’s not there. And that, it turns out, is a great deal. Enough to drive the more hard-core Agile guys crazy trying to convince software tool guys that software project management tools should be banned, that they make Agile projects run amok, grind to a halt, go off course, and all manner of bad things.
I know because I’m one of those software project management tool guys, and I’ve seen firsthand an Agile guy go a little crazy at some of my suggestions for tools.
Trouble was, the Agile guy couldn’t tell me exactly what the problem was with the tools. So instead he made up some random stuff, and that convinced me he really was out in left field. Just another newborn Agile Manifesto evangelist spewing radical nonsense, I thought.
So I built my little prototype, convinced myself I was going to own the Agile tool market inside a year, and started playing with it.
Well, the experience really sucked, and it taught me a lot about the differences between tools and real life, what we tool guys should be trying to model and what we should not, and as a side note, why Apple is on the verge of global domination.
But I digress. Let’s get to the list of what critical information and features are missing from my prototype. Just what exactly does the whiteboard have that the tool doesn’t?
- You can tell whose card is whose with a glance.
- You can see the complete history of each card’s edits at a glance.
- You can tell who made what edits by the handwriting.
- Important things are bolded, underlined, or otherwise highlighted.
- Unimportant things are small.
- You can tell the age of a card by how worn it is.
- You can prioritize by rank and by iteration with a single move.
- You can move two cards at once (swap position).
- It’s big enough for two or more people to discuss over. You could fit three to five. Try that at a monitor.
- It can accommodate “extras” in the form of stickers, stars, fridge magnets if you have a metal board behind it, tacked on notes if it’s cork.
- You can merge two stories by overlapping.
- You can split a story by ripping the card in two.
- A story can overlap an iteration border and you can have an agreed meaning for that.
- You can delete instantly.
- You can add nearly instantly.
- You can undo any number of deletes.
- You can stand up in front of it, which gets you up and gives you energy.
- You can put things in the space around it.
- You can hang a bottle opener off it.
… and so on, and so on…
The number of nuances that the physical Agile board has just goes on and on, and each nuance conveys some kind of information about the user story, the iteration, the project, or the team. It took me five minutes to think of 20. I’m sure there are another 20.
And to me, that’s 40 good reasons why Agile guys shun software project management tools.