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Why physical (and digital) boards are awesome

Agnieszka Józwiak
Agnieszka Józwiak
Jan 8th, 2016

One of the symptoms that our office is repopulating after the holiday season desertion is the first lively discussion we’ve been having this year. It was triggered by a blogpost which Wojciech Seliga, our CEO, came across via his Twitter feed just before Christmas. It was a post entitled “Why all the Jira hate? I’ll tell you why” by Andy Kelk, who criticised organisations which, quote, “seem to think that gaining agility is a matter of installing a tool”. Being all heart and soul in the Atlassian Ecosystem we could go on and on why Jira does in fact unlock the potential of agile, but we also have to agree that neither Jira, nor any other tool, guarantees agility by itself.

Another argument raised by Andy Kelk was that Jira locks the physical board away behind a login screen. This makes it impossible for anyone not directly involved in the project to contribute and obscures work progress tracking by making it literally intangible, consequently straying away from the very essence of agile. Valid point, no doubt. And this is exactly the reason why we’ve created Agile Cards for Jira.

In its now sixth year on the Atlassian Marketplace and nearly 1400 active installs, Agile Cards is among the top selling Jira add-ons, which says a lot about how much people need and like to work with low-tech, high-value physical pinboards. Clearly, digital project management tools are often not enough and physical boards are undoubtedly the best medium for agile teams; problems arise when the workflow scale and distribution of these teams can no longer be facilitated just by walls and paper. This is where Agile Cards can save the day.

Agile Cards enable teams to easily work with both physical and digital boards at the same time and synchronize them with as little effort as possible. With our app it is possible to print Jira issues in the form of customized cards; these cards can be moved around the physical wallboard to show progress and the resulting status changes can be updated in Jira simply by taking a photo of the board and uploading it into Jira.

This effective trick combines the digital and physical worlds and enables fast and simple transition between them:

  1. Work progress can be seen both in Jira, as well as on the wallboard, with the latter facilitating the sincerity to agile principles.
  2. Physical wallboards can be easily synchronized between time zones, locations and remote teams.
  3. Pinboards are constantly backed up with their digital counterparts (and vice versa, in fact).
  4. Historical data is not lost and can be reviewed anytime, in the sense that the physical board displays the current work progress, whereas the backlog and completed sprints can still be viewed in Jira.
  5. Backlog ordering does not mess up the physical board, so the cards on the wall represent only the ripe issues or tasks.
  6. Groups, no matter how large, can collaborate with ease without the need to manually sync multiple pinboards.
  7. The team can still fully leverage their physical board - celebrate the progress by physically moving cards during stand-up, take responsibility of a story by seizing the card etc.
  8. External project stakeholders can be kept in the know on an ongoing basis.
  9. Passers-by can still contribute by sneak-peeking the wallboard activity.

There’s more on the technicalities behind this idea here.

Our messy, real-life office wallboards created and managed with the help of Agile Cards.

Summing up, after processing this topic for a while we’ve arrived at the conclusion that as long as work progress is smooth, goals are met and the atmosphere is good it doesn’t really matter if you prefer to work with physical or digital boards. Setting all prejudice aside, Agile Cards clearly seem to prove that physical boards are indeed awesome and they do not rule out digital boards - the two can complement each other.