Agile and Technology


Can and when should port-it notes be replaced by digital ways or working? I know that virtual teams are a fact of life and I read regularly about the challenges of enabling true, real time collaboration between these teams. I know that this should easily pivot to a more productive conversation that transforms from how to collaborate to how to improve on the actual work. Also thinking about related topics, such as, what happens when you run out of walls and table tops? Notes fall to the floor? Annual paper/marker/tape cost and waste? Let’s look at the tools that are available. What have you tried, What do you use today? How to they best satisfy your requirements? What are the limitations? What would be the ideal?


So many good nuggets and questions tucked in here, Ellen!

I’ll pick up on tools theme running thru your post…

I will experiment with any tool that helps promote interaction between the individuals on my teams, as well as with their stakeholders.

I commonly use post-its, white boards, as well as their digital equivalents. It varies frequently week to week, month to month, project to project. The important thing to me is to enable folks to collaborate effectively and without frustration of the tools getting in the way.

Given that the run rate of a developer on my team is $150-300/hr, the cost of the tools to me is less important than the productivity of my team. I’m happy to fill a waste basket with post-its and used up markers if it means we’re communicating, figuring things out, and building working software.

Sure post it notes eventually fall to the floor. Whiteboards get erased. Walls get covered with those large sized post-its. They are all just artifacts. I can’t ship them to customers :slight_smile:

But hopefully those artifacts have served their purpose in their brief lifespan. If we need to record things for future reference, I’ll do my best to transfer the information into a central, searchable, place.

Depending on the team, the scale, the corporate policies, the tools of choice could be:

  • GitHub + ZenHub
  • Google Apps
  • Atlassian Confluence + JIRA
  • Trello
  • Pivotal Tracker
  • Basecamp
  • GroupMap
  • ScatterSpoke

Not one of them is perfect. All have limitations. They are simply good enough for now, for my teams.

And what is “ideal” for me may not suit you in the slightest; in fact it may not be ideal for me in 6 months!


I believe the tactile nature of a physical board and stickies help teams learn how to collaborate and break down work together as a team. Once they are working well as a team, can effectively break down work, and effectively swarm on tasks, if they feel they can be even more effective with using V1, Jira, Trello, whatever, so be it.

I’ve had awesome teams doing full continuous integration, full test automation, near continuous deployment, and using tools like Jira very well.

However, in most cases, I observe teams using tools doing less well. For example, during sprint planning they have one person at the keyboard and another telling them what to type. 5 others are staring at their phones or whatever… That was not the intent of sprint planning. It was meant to be a collaborative working session where the team is breaking down requirements/stories and designing solutions.

Same goes for the daily standup. I tend to find many teams collaborating around physical boards and reporting status around screens.

There are similar debates around estimates, relative estimation, story points, planning poker, etc. These are all awesome ideas that when done as originally intended can really help teams learn how to break down work and collaborate together as a team. However when an article pops up by a respected author challenging whether a particular agile practice is the most agile thing out there, teams tend to say ‘hey, this expert said this…’, so we should no longer do that.

Unfortunately it is not that simple. The problem I see is that many of these teams are not quite as agile as they think they are. It is not their fault, they only know what they know. They have never seen a highly collaborative team doing true continuous integration, continuous deployment, full-automated test, etc.…

They simply do not know that they are nowhere near as agile as they could be, they want to use ‘best practices’ and simply to not realize that they could still benefit greatly from learning how to apply many of these ‘old’ techniques as intended.

It’s up to us to help show them how agile they can be – and I often find that stickies help.



Lots of good content here to debate, Ellen. I feel like this could be its own conference to some extent :slight_smile:

Real time collaboration is always an interesting term to me, because I wonder how much of it is truly real time. Are we talking about distributed teams a few hours apart, and they are literally working enough overlap hours to warrant real-time collaboration? Or are we talking about teams that are halfway around the world, that work and sleep on different schedules? I would imagine those use cases providing very different options on the collaboration tool side.

If I presume we are truly talking about interaction between people - Ive seen hipchat, and other ‘team room’ concepts be more of a one-stop shop for team level collaboration. Beyond team level, for example - inter-team, I’ve used Sococo, but would say Lync and other corporate IM tools are king at the organizations I’ve been.

Im not sure I’ve seen technology fully leveraged to promote a sense of “being next to someone”, and maybe we dont need it to be, but I suspect that will be the standard within the next 5 years. IM is cool, but still asynchronous to some degree. Anyone that disagrees with that, should try to have a multi-threaded convo using only IM. Lots of backspacing :wink:

I’ve not seen teams truly run out of space, as they simply re-purpose what they have. Do stickies fall down? Sure. I think Andy’s post resonates with me about transferring those activities to a more stable model. Paper and tape costs seem trivial to me, though maybe I just dont track it with enough diligence to see an impact.

To me, the ideal tool is mobile or tablet driven, with video (or just the nextel model of voice to voice) - and allows a platform of real-time interaction, but also the notion of “let me get what I want when I need it” - which is how I use slack. Some days I am absolutely real time, and other days I dont check-in until after 11pm to get a feel for what happened.

I’ve not see many good dashboards that communicate this stuff, but do have ideas of what I’d like to see. Perhaps others can share what they use or have seen, that exists today to give you a better sense of how its used, or how it could be leveraged for your use case.

Great questions though!