What are Scrum Task Boards? Learn the Methods & Tools

What are Scrum Task Boards?

The Task Board is perhaps the single most useful, and arguably most important, device that can be used on Agile projects, often described as an ‘information radiator’ because it gives out the information to everyone from a central location. A Task Board is the focal point of any Agile project and serves as a good place at which to hold the stand-up meeting or Scrum.

Typically, a Task Board displays only information pertinent to the current sprint and will be cleared off before the next sprint begins. There can be exceptions such as reminders, technical notes or other data that needs to be easily available and persists across iterations, although such information is not strictly part of the Task Board.

Task Board Placement

It is important that the Task Board be somewhere visible to as many team members as possible and always accessible to all; usually a large wall or window (be creative). Manager’s offices and conference rooms are not good locations as they are not always accessible. It is important that the every team member feel they share ownership of the Task Board; it is representative of the teamwork necessary to succeed and shows that each individual is responsible for that success (or even failure.)

Creating a Task Board

The surface area doesn’t really matter provided it is relatively large, that horizontal and vertical lines can be placed on it, and that notes of some kind can be attached. Almost all surfaces are suitable for some kind tape to create the lines, but the method of displaying notes or cards can vary by surface.

  • Cork boards with push-pins,
  • White boards, windows, large pieces of paper or large plastic wall calendars, all with reusable sticky notes,
  • Metal surfaces with paper and magnets, or
  • Any basic wall surface with removable, non marketing labels.

The information is displayed in a 2-dimensional matrix with rows representing User Stories and columns representing various status values, which should be, at a minimum:

  • tasks to do,
  • tasks in progress, and
  • tasks done.
  • Figure 1: A Simple Task Board

The objective is immediate visibility of the status of all User Stories and what each person is working on. Other columns can be added, such as whether a task is being coded or tested, although it is important to avoid complexity or information overload. The simpler the information, the easier it is to see the overall picture at a glance. The choice really comes down to whatever the team as a whole finds useful.

Using Color-coded Notes

Cards or notes of different colors can be used to represent such things as new and urgent tasks (red perhaps?) or impediments (blue?). Another color might be used for notes representing team members, which can be given a personal touch by including each person’s photograph. Again, details and minor pieces of information should be avoided and kept elsewhere.

  • Figure 2: A more sophisticated Task Board

For an even greater benefit, two dedicated spaces can be allocated, one for the Burndown chart and one for the ‘done’ conditions. The Burndown chart should be on or near the Task Board because the two will be closely correlated (hopefully!) and the ‘done’ conditions help remind everyone what it really means to move a task into the ‘done’ column.

Other Benefits

Having a Task Board also helps give physical focus to software development which is inherently nonmaterial. People often respond to tactile interaction and physical presence more than they do to yet more information on computer monitors. Other uses vary from one team to another reflecting the team culture and character:

  • The location of the Task Board can become the equivalent of the water cooler, centralizing informal discussions and one-on-one chats.
  • The board can help a team member pick the next task to work on and any task allocation imbalance will be quickly apparent.
  • If one user story results in too many tasks, the problem will be evident and can be addressed.
  • As well as being the location of stand-up meetings, the board’s simple nature encourages shorter meetings while being something of an agenda for the scrum, ensuring that no user stories or tasks are overlooked.

Software Task Boards

With a Task Board being a 2-dimensional matrix, it could be represented in a spreadsheet, but moving tasks around in a spreadsheet is neither sufficiently quick nor simple. There are software tools that help manage tasks or represent the Task Board and these can work well, especially for teams that are not co-located.

Figure 3: Planning Board in SpiraPlan / SpiraTeam showing Status and Progress

But it is not the best way to start. A team with less Agile experience would do well to use a physical Task Board in parallel with any software tool to get the best from both worlds.