Learn how to create whiteboards: Whiteboards are magic as they support foundational agile principles such as interaction, collaboration, face-to-face communication, or transparency. They facilitate adapting to change, continuous improvement, and the self-organization of team. You can create meaningful software with a few index cards, pins, pencils, and a drywall — you do not need Jira or any other agile process tools.
The first application of a whiteboard that comes to the mind of an agile practitioner is probably a sprint board. Too often, though, is our imagination limited to the available ‘whiteboard space.’ It turns out that whiteboards are not just well suited to display a sprint backlog or the workflow and workload of a team.
Whiteboards make excellent information radiators in general: from product backlogs, product roadmaps and experimentation and hypotheses backlogs, to visualization of technical debt or architecture diagrams, to impact mapping or user story mapping. Whiteboards provide instant transparency and invite collaboration with other team members or stakeholders. Also, whiteboards prove particularly useful in explaining team processes to stakeholders and new team members. By comparison to printed posters that seem to be both static by nature as well as ‘approved’ before printing, whiteboards invite to challenges the depicted status quo-as they can be changed both quickly and reversible.
Lastly, a “whiteboard” in the sense of this article is not necessarily magnetic although those are more versatile. A drywall will do, as will a thick layer of cork.
There are four basic techniques to get offline boards:
Of course, windows and doors are probably usable as improvised whiteboards, too, depending on what is acceptable in your office. (I am aware that asking for forgiveness is presumably easier than asking for permission. However, if you are in doubt, I suggest asking the facility management. Some of those folks are really protective due to numerous safety and governance rules.)
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There are apparent whiteboard supplies such as magnets, pins, index cards or PostIts/stickies. While index cards need to be principally motived to stick to the surface of the whiteboard, stickies may work temporarily without additional means depending on the surface and the quality of the stickies. (I suggest using ‘super-sticky’ stickies anyway, but even those submit to gravity sooner or later.)
Whiteboard markers that can be removed from whiteboard without a cleaner should be the only markers around your office. (I am aware, that there are fewer colors available for whiteboard markers.) The trouble regularly starts with mixing whiteboard markers with permanent markers for flipchart paper. Honestly, I find it hard to understand why the latter is still purchased given the high removal costs if they are used on whiteboards without being removed immediately. (Have a bottle of cleaner handy for that purpose; the ones containing alcohol are usually up to the job.)
Drawing lines on whiteboards, for example, to mark columns or swim-lanes can be a tricky thing. Using whiteboard markers is not helpful as you will need to redraw them often. Also, team members tend to wipe lines off the whiteboard when working with the board. While it is easy to remove whiteboard markers from whiteboards, removing a black or red whiteboard marker from a white shirt or blouse is a different beast. My favorite line marking tools is hence a very thin, flexible yet sticky tape that is used for painting jobs.
Another essential component of useful whiteboards is magnetic avatars. (We have them printed by a service provider.) We use them for every team members to mark the tasks someone is working on during a sprint. We also use them on the product backlog board to match tasks with teams. (We have a unified product backlog that multiple teams use.) Finally, we use them to visualize the architecture of the application.
Given that whiteboards probably are most often used for sprint backlogs or Kanban boards, here are some practices that have been useful in the past:
As always, you can observe anti-patterns when teams use tools from the agile toolbox. In the case of whiteboards, for example, the most critical whiteboard anti-patterns are:
Let us close with another fun part of whiteboards — gaming:
One of my former teams used to identify the team member representing the team at the scrum of scrum ceremony by throwing little magnets at the whiteboard — give it a thought, there are endless opportunities!
Whiteboards are one of the most versatile tools from the agile toolbox: simple to create, even quick to improvise, radiating information, and inviting everyone to collaborate and thus becoming a part of the solution.
What experiences — good and bad — have you made with whiteboards? Please share with us in the comments.
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Create Whiteboards for Transparency and Collaboration was first published on Age-of-Product.