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How teams at Valiton keep agile boards and Jira in sync

Have you ever suggested that your team use a physical Scrum or Kanban board? Maintaining physical boards is a worthwhile effort to facilitate meaningful feedback, spot risks early, and get help from team members. Still, on a daily basis, the effort should be optimized.

Felix Huschka, the “Agile Master” at Valiton, a company of BurdaSolutions, wanted the boards to benefit the teams, management, and other project stakeholders who are all located in multiple locations. And he continuously works through several iterations to optimize the physical boards for his teams in Offenburg and Munich.

Burda Media offices in Offenburg and Munich

Valiton, which is part of BurdaSolutions, is a software solutions consultancy that takes care of major e-commerce initiatives of the German publishing business under the Burda umbrella. In addition to Hubert Burda Media, they work with customers from the media and e-commerce industries, companies such as Edeka, Condé Nast, and Südwest Medienholding.

The board story started with Magic Estimations

Valiton is on the way to become a more agile company. This journey is accompanied by Felix as an “Agile Master”, who works with multiple teams in several locations to face the challenges of this transition. One of those challenges was to introduce story points as an estimation unit into an existing project which has been working with hours from the start. Not only was the goal to use story points for a sprint, but also to roughly estimate the existing backlog using story points to get rid of hours.

So, what do you do when you want to estimate a huge number of user stories? You can use the Magic Estimation technique with user stories printed from Jira. Felix says, "For that, you can use Jira’s print functionality for a start… but, if you want to create custom print templates, then you have a look at the Atlassian Marketplace and search for an app which helps you to do that."

One of the first Magic Estimations at Valiton

That was where Felix first came across Agile Cards for Jira. He used it to create a custom template containing such fields as:

  • Jira issue ID, type, and summary
  • Description
  • Acceptance criteria checklist using a custom field
  • Story size
  • Sub-tasks (optional)

After the team had covered around 10sqm of wall with stories, he decided to take a deeper look into the Agile Cards plugin. He discussed the possibility of having a physical board and being able to sync it with Jira with one of his teams and decided to give it a try.

Card example for user story, used for Magic Estimations and as a swimlane header on the physical task board

Iteration 1. Initial board setup

When Felix started experimenting with Agile Cards for Jira, he figured out that there were three main needs that a physical board had to satisfy:

  • Increase collaboration level within the team
  • Keep the external stakeholders in the loop by frequent Jira status updates
  • Have the sprint progress visible to everyone, including management

The first board was built and photo synchronization proved to work well on a board sized 2 by 1.5m, with 4 user stories used for swimlanes and approximately 40 subtasks travelling across the four-step workflow. An iPhone SE and Galaxy 7 were used for taking the board photo, and both provided enough resolution so that all codes on the cards were recognized and correctly interpreted by the Agile Cards app. For details on how to sync Jira and physical boards, please check this blogpost.

Iteration 2. Custom long boards for tracking accuracy

Given the precision of task breakdowns, tracking, and team size, the board size does matter at Valiton. Standard boards were too small, so the team came up with a custom solution. Felix ordered multiple coated metal plates (100cm x 50cm) and had them mounted to the wall in Munich to obtain the required board size.

More board surface now matched the team’s needs of 50+ sub-tasks travelling from Open to Done status. Typically, one developer completes 3-5 sub-tasks daily, so snapping the board photo with multiple cards and updating Jira board status from a mobile phone is the way to go.

Current version of the board with tasks travelling across the board on magnetic pads

Iteration 3. Optimizing board cards

Paper and small magnets are usually at hand in any office but Felix decided to save the paper-cutting time by designing a more efficient solution – cutting 40 to 80 subtasks from an A4 sheet and placing them on the board took too long.

In the current board, cards are printed on self-adhesive labels from HermaPrint. After printing, each card is placed on a magnetic rectangle of a matching size. The pads are cut from 10cm-wide magnetic tape. White tape is currently in use but red pads are coming soon for expedite items and bugs. The swimlane cords use colour-coding, the red cord on the top is the fast lane for bugs. On top of that, the team is planning to add the red magnetic pad to draw attention to bugs on an expedite lane.

Boards at Valiton, with user stories as swimlanes and tasks moving through the workflow. Red cord on the top serves as expedite lane.

So, how do the boards work?

I asked Felix how the boards work now and I found out how remote team members now attend the standups. Felix says, "we run the standups via appear.in and all team members can see the board. People working remotely tell us which tasks to move and we rearrange tasks on their behalf. Therefore, they also can have this moment of glory by moving the task to “Done”. Doing it when nobody sees is half the joy, if not less. Plus, finally, all developers are well aware of work in progress and the upcoming sub-tasks."

When asked about the print templates needed for planning and tracking work, Felix replies: "I now have separate print templates for user stories on A4 sheets for planning and estimating; and templates for bugs with steps to reproduce and test, also on A4. As well as larger sub-tasks (4 on a page) and smaller sub-tasks (8 on a page).”


If you feel like replicating this approach for your team, here are some links:

  • Agile Cards for Jira free trial is available from the Atlassian Marketplace.

  • All magnetic elements for mounting the board, eyemagnets for attaching the dividing cords, and magnetic tape can be purchased from magnet-shop.com or similar online shops.

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