The Heart of Scrum

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This article has been removed. An edited version appears in the book, The People’s Scrum, published by Dymaxicon, May 2013.
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The longer I teach and coach Scrum, the more I become convinced that the task board is the heart of Scrum. Without the task board there is no center, no focus, no hub. The task board when truly understood becomes the spiritual home of the team, its church if you like. Team members gather around the board to argue, discuss, innovate, to align themselves with each other, to course-correct, to learn, to celebrate.

The task board generates collaboration. It is visual, it is tactile, it is larger than life (it is much, much larger than a computer screen). It stands as a big, visible marker of our progress and of our character. It proclaims who we are as a team. It is our identity. The task board tells the truth, and it spreads the message: we are unafraid.

The task board is often described as the water cooler of the new paradigm. The parallel, while well-meaning is actually doing the task board a disservice. Yes, it is a place to gather, to talk. No, it is not a place to complain, to gossip, to blow off steam. The task board is a place to regenerate oneself, to reconnect, to draw breath. It represents a running towards, not a running away from.

Scrum is the antithesis of the corporate cubicle divide-and-conquer mentality. We don’t need table tennis and foosball to appease us, to create an artificial work-life balance. We don’t need fun as an afterthought to work. Work is fun. We don’t require water cooler moments and cigarette breaks in order to exercise our deep, human need for conversation, for interaction. In Scrum we live this way. All day, every day.

Scrum is about whole people, not about skills. Scrum is not I but we. It is about sharing, learning, continuous improvement, vibrant interaction, passionate collaboration and personal growth.  Scrum is about tribes, it is about building community. Each tribal member needs a sense of belonging, a personal quest.  Whole tribes need gathering places, they need sacred objects, they need focus and they need pulse.  Scrum supports that way of being.  The task board, and its emergent environment provides the central life-force from which these things are born.

To live, to truly live, Scrum needs a heart. That heart is the task board. Without it Scrum looks and feels insipid. It is weak, and thin. It loses its focus, and without an outside controller (e.g. coach, champion) to continually pump life into it, the effort will soon dissolve back into the dysfunctional process that it was brought in to replace. Without its heart, Scrum has no power.

One of the kindest services a Scrum Master can do for his/her team and for the organization as a whole is to create transparency.  Transparency allows us to see flaws, and when we see the flaws we can make the choice to do something about them.  We can stop being victims of process and start being warriors of change.

Xavier Quesada Allue’s Visual Management blog offers many suggestions of how to use the task board to achieve the goal of transparency.  Xavier’s work in this area takes the task board from a useful tool to an object of beauty and inspiration.  And the way I see it, that is the task board’s rightful place.  The heart thrives on love.

23 responses to “The Heart of Scrum

  1. Wonderful, passionate, inspiring. I am forwarding this post on to teams I work with.

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  3. When my fortune cookie said, “today you will be profoundly moved by a blog,” I would have expected the topic to be elephants or refugees, not Scrum. Thanks — awesome post.

  4. I am very glad we kept our low-tech, sticky-based taskboard (that you set up for us). The once-proposed 60″ touchscreen LCD backed by Mingle would have been a neat toy, but it would not have a heart.

  5. Yep. It’s dangerous to try to replace the task board with software.

    The various pictures shown at the Visual Management blog all looked very familiar to me. Most people who don’t know Scrum probably see each as a whiteboard with lines and stickies (and stickies on those stickies). They probably see a mess. But I immediately see it as a taskboard, and that’s pretty cool.

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  9. Really motivating article!
    But how would approach this issue in a geographically distributed team? How can the task board reach a live state in such a team?

    • Hi Gabriel. This is an example of a question I prefer not to answer :-) It is something only you and your team can figure out. What I will offer though, is the thought that maybe this isn’t the right question. There may be better questions to ask.

  10. Tobias I absolutely agree with the importance of a task board and am a firm believer in a big visible task board that is the hub for the team and offers transparency and so many other things.

    On an internal scrum course I ran today this came up and a developer was saying that a task board was old fashioned “why do you use sticky notes and things as old fashioned as that when we can use a tool and everyone can look at their screen to get the information”

    When I pointed out that everyone just looking at their own screens starts to silo people and removes communication and transparency and the board is the hub of the team they began to understand.

    As an aside one scrum master I worked with experimented with not using a task board with his team, after a few months they moved back to one much bigger than the previous and their opinion is that using the task board is by far a better way to work.

    Task boards are essential no question imho

  11. Can’t agree more than what you have mentioned in your blog.
    It took my team couple of months to use the board but now it’s heart of the team. Everyone feels proud to stick a note, own it and move it.

    Tobias I will always feel fortunate to take the Scrum training from you. I am working hard to facilitate the team to implement SCRUM and in few months they have delivered several projects successfully. Thanks for giving the correct angle of SCRUM.

  12. Your article describes ABSOLUTE ESSENCE of good collaboration.

    The last customer (project I’ve mentored) was resistant to use any visual board as non-professional practice.

    The missing visibility of the progress was the killing reason for hour long daily calls after which no one knew what was accomplished.

    And the solution was simple. To not think about I but we (as you wrote).

    Solution was very cheap, just few dollars for Big White Place to write or place card.

    People are getting things complicated because they ARE PROFESSIONAL :)

  13. Tobias, thanks for this wonderful post.
    Question: In my last Scrum project where I was the SM, it was quite easy for us to focus as long as we had the physical task board. However, after a year, we got more dispersed development teams, also in India, and a physical task board was no longer possible. We replaced it with an online tool.
    Consequently, things started to get boring.
    How do I maintain the same sense of urgency, the same sense of focus, when there is no physical taskboard any more?
    Cheers,
    Matthias

    • Hi Matthias,
      I don’t think there is a satisfactory answer to your question. There are tools that look like taskboards now, and are very interactive, but when people are not physically together something significant is missing, and no amount of collaboration tools will fill the hole. True collaboration requires all five senses, with distributed teams you involve, at best, two.

  14. thanx for this great article. i’ve been trying to convince someone on the team for weeks now. this certainly helps to get my own sense back, since indeed the greenhopper plugin isn’t a bad product and could possibly safe time, but it’s all about what you describe in your article.

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  19. Hi, I know this is an old post, but i only came across it now. I could not have said this any better. This is exactly what Scrum is to me and our team.
    Thanks!

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