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Tracking the sprint goal on a physical board

Agnieszka Józwiak
Agnieszka Józwiak
Feb 15th, 2017

To deliver a sprint goal, a team needs to overcome a number of challenges. The ones usually listed are either internal, like insufficient ownership and collaboration, or external, like scope change and blockers that have not been dealt with. On top of that, the sprint goal can be unclear.

Let’s assume that the sprint goal is clear, though. If that’s the case, the remaining challenges can be easier to overcome with a physical board. Marking the goal-related tasks and time in status are small but important improvements to your daily routine.

User stories for the physical board can be printed from a project-tracking system of your choice. Agile Cards by Spartez, which support printing Jira issues and TFS / VSTS work items, are available from the Atlassian and Visual Studio marketplaces.

Triggering the sprint goal focus with the physical board

In any sprint, there are two types of tasks. One type leads to the sprint goal. The other type includes those “emergent ones” that teams experience either as external pressure or as internal tasks like paying off technical debt, caring about infrastructure, the build system, necessary refactoring, and the like; in general, work not contributing directly to the goal but necessary to accomplish.

To get your goal-related tasks moved to “done” as quickly—and mistake-free—as possible, you need to keep an eye on them during daily standups, both with a physical board and in task-tracking software like Jira or TFS / VSTS.

While setting up / working with your physical board, consider this:

  • Write your sprint goal on the whiteboard and in your task tracker.
  • Flag tasks necessary to accomplish the sprint goal on both the digital and the physical board.
  • During daily standups, pay special attention to the tasks related to the goal.
  • Focus on removing obstacles and getting the tasks to “done” status as quickly as possible.

Pointing a finger at a paper card on a physical board puts more emphasis on the key tasks toward achieving the goal. And while finger-pointing may not have positive connotations, it is useful not only to the team lead, but also the team members, who will be able to ask questions or offer help on tasks others are working on.

Highlighting goal-related tasks on your board

Even if the goal is well-formulated, the team may still get involved in side tasks. The way to prevent this divergence is a daily focus triggered by the board. Here, key tasks are marked with green stickers to indicate their goal relevance.

In the digital task tracker, the items can be marked with a label or flag. Some of our teams at Spartez find it useful to place a clear mark on higher-priority issues.

Revealing blockers with dot marks

The usual daily Scrum conversation is focused on yesterday’s activities and plans for today. Team members know that blockers should be reported, but in practice they are rarely mentioned. One way of spotting the problem is paying attention to time in status. Issues in Jira are marked with dots representing days spent in status. This technique can also be used on the physical board, with a simple pen or pencil. This extra information can help in:

  • spotting tasks blocked by internal or external forces, and dealing with the blocker
  • spotting tasks that are about to change status and may require some time for review by another team member

Try setting up your physical board with Agile Cards for Jira or TFS / VSTS. On top of multiple physical board benefits, these described techniques will help your team maintain goal focus.