Physical visible workspace is just more robust!

Did you ever end up feeling crippled with yet another “agile” story management tool?

I seem to do that from time to time. As soon as you need to handle a case a little out-of-the-ordinary, the tool breaks. Where should you put this thing? How should you present it? What looked like a walk in the park suddenly becomes a mess.

If you have a whiteboard you just draw a square somewhere and put a post-it or a note there, and just by doing so you have communicated “This is a one-off, but its important since it is on the board”. The team-members will see it and understand. Elapsed time: 1 minute.

In the case that the tool is flexible you can probably configure it. But then it is usually configurable beyond all reasonable limits. Tools must have “ticks in all the boxes” to compete with all the other unreasonably configurable tools. This configuration, including learning how to configure it, takes a lot of time since the tools are very configurable. And it might not be possible to do what you want anyway. Elapsed time: days? weeks?

The tools try to cover all possible future cases of configuration, based on previous projects and not the current. Hmmm, this sounds familiar. Waterfall, anyone?

The funny thing is that you get the same characteristics from such a tool as from the waterfall process, or from trying to control any empirical process using only feed-forward control, i.e. “planning ahead”. Small irregularities can make a big impact.

The meta-process of configuring your process is also empirical. If you use a whiteboard you adapt the board and your process only to the current project. This makes using a physical visible planning tool more robust in the face of irregularities.

For the record, the tools usually provide a lot of interesting functionality that can be useful, but you’d better have an off-line option to handle the quirks. But then you have two systems, and that might not be optimal either.

Also, for globally distributed teams the argument is that “you need a tool”. I rest my case there, just asking if you really need a globally distributed team? But that is probably another blog entry…

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Ola Ellnestam
    Feb 19, 2009 @ 10:44:43

    Yes! I feel crippled just thinking of those tools.

    I think I know why.

    ‘Physical’ and visual tools are often more easily configured. They will therefor be able to absorb variation better. The variation in a process, workflow or the environment.

    Thus making them a far better choice than any tool. Always.

    Reply

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