You’ll get no argument from me that a physical board is best when you are colocated. I feel the same about personal kanban boards. In fact I have a 4’ x 6’ magnetic white board in my office for my personal kanban board and I absolutely love it! I wrote a LinkedIn article about my personal kanban board a while ago. The board has changed even more since, and I have a few upgrade ideas yet to be implemented, but at its core the movable cards with pictures are the same.
I use the free Trello edition for a few personal matters where I feel that I need access to the board out of my home office, or for small projects between me and my wife, e.g. It’s better than a simple To Do list. I’ve also been a user of Microsoft Exchange for so many years that I have a technique with folders that can hold Messages and Tasks and simulate a personal kanban board, good for workflows that I expect to remain in the email realm and where having to make cards elsewhere would be waste.
When you get into large, cross-team situations for a given value stream where you are implementing some sort of scaling framework like SAFe® or when you have distributed teams, I think software is essential. I suppose in dual location situations, teams could do like people who play chess or Scrabble® remotely do and have dual physical boards and announce changes via some technique. I have seen large multi-team initiatives done with manual boards where everyone is colocated, too, but I have no personal experience of the pros and cons. I have to think that there is some sort of bookkeeping going on behind the scenes that gathers data and allows people who are in the value stream but who don’t typically get to the war room (gymnasium?) to have some sort of feedback, hopefully bidirectional feedback.
When it comes to selecting software for a situation, you must start with your goals and constraints and make an objective decision. All of these software solutions exist because they have enough market share to exist. They each have pros and cons. Your goals and constraints will eliminate a few candidates. As @ryan stated earlier, I do like VersionOne Lifecycle, and, I am also one of its harshest critics. I have pounded their employees with feedback, and I’m not always cheery about it. It still lacks default values due to architectural design decisions made in 2001, e.g. I have to hack my CSS style sheets in order to get card colors. WTF?!? I could go on. But I am using VersionOne Lifecycle typically in a large, cross team situation. No vendor has matched SAFe® Program Increment Planning needs near as well, and I like that they have an extension called Continuum that goes beyond “potentially shippable software” out into the realm of DevOps where I spend my time these days.
Rally isn’t Rally anymore, it is CA (as in Computer Associates) Agile Central. I’ve been in the software industry for over 30 years, and CA has existed with the same business model for a very long time. It was founded in 1976 as an offshoot from IBM when IBM had pressure to separate its hardware and software business. Today, as it has done since the 1980’s when I started my career, it buys software at a certain peak of its lifecycle in the marketplace and puts it into lights-on maintenance mode and/or it nudges the acquisition close to half a dozen or more of its other acquisitions and calls them an integrated solution for large enterprise problems. The phrase that I have heard and stated about CA has persisted for my entire career. I wonder if anyone else on this thread started in the 1980’s, heck maybe even 1970’s or earlier who has heard the same? Computer Associates is where all good software goes to die. Even if you are a fan of the now CA Agile Central and you think they are keeping up with feature development and refinement of the product based on feedback, the price is painful, and there are too many other alternatives.
Microsoft TFS has its following, but I don’t understand it beyond the team level. It started as a source code control system and coordinator for Microsoft Visual Studio although today most teams use Git which they now support. Until about 4 years ago even the team that was behind it wouldn’t use it to do their own work! CEO Nadella wisely put a stop to that and they have been making good progress ever since. Still, if you are practicing SAFe® or anything like it, TFS just doesn’t have the UI and visualizations to support what the portfolio, large solution, and program teams need. They know it and are catching up, but most of their energy still seems to be situated on convincing teams that code in Java or anything not .NET related that they are relevant for their CI/CD capabilities.
I’ll end with Jira. Jira has its roots in ticket systems. It then branched out into project management. It supports all kinds of things today with enough configuration, and, its roots in triple-constraint thinking show in every implementation that I have ever seen. I don’t like it because it so easily allows for ScrumFall, Wagile, pick your favorite Agile and Waterfall portmanteau. As with SAFe® and other agile scaling frameworks, with leadership inexperienced with agile making decisions on its implementation, it can be used to keep things essentially triple-constraint based, which when done completely misses the mark of the agile movement leading up to 2001 and persisting today in more “modern” forms. (Hat tip to JK.)