Thursday, April 23, 2009

Walking the Board...

Several weeks ago we changed our standup structure. At first I kept it to myself due to my fear of backlash from the agile police over blogging about it. But, this week's InfoQ post prompted me to bring it up since what we did was mentioned in the article.

Our team was starting to drone in the standups. As more people swarmed on a story, there was a lack of self-management when communicating against the story goal. Translation: Person 2 in the circle would discuss Story B, and then person 3, 5, and 7 in the circle would wait for their turn to share their piece of the story work. It was if we had mulched our sprint backlog and put focus on people instead of delivered business value.

Ditch the 3 questions! What? Yeah, I said it, ditch the 3 questions. Actually, wait... keep the questions. Ditch the person rotation. Yeah... that's the answer.

Our pseudo-Kanban board (I say pseudo since it is not by the book) is already prioritized from top to bottom by the CEO/product owner. Now, instead of going around the room by person, we work from top to bottom. I play the role of scrum master, so I point at each card. The team speaks about what they did yesterday, what they will do today, and what is blocking them.

Suddenly the room is lit up with energy. Instead of having people discuss their slice of the work, the team is speaking about the whole story. They talk towards the goal of delivery and business value. Cross-communication is triggered (and taken offline as needed). I'll admit that this didn't happen at first (at first they talked to the guy pointing at the card on the board), but it has happened over time with my coaching. There's more interest in moving the card since there is immediate clarity on where we stand with it. Nobody later in the circle is going to surprise us on a prior topic.

Now... you could easily argue that this is stupid. A mature team would be smart enough to speak at the right time and not just in turn. I agree. Look at it a different way though... we are talking through our board in order of importance to the business. The most energy and focus is on the right stuff. Our conversation is less about the who, and more about the what.

Turns out, David Anderson calls this "walking the board". I propose that it's a good alternative and we are proving it!


  1. The point about "They talk towards the goal of delivery and business value." is quite interesting and very valuable comment. It is very easy for a development team to lose the focus on "business value" so I like your approach of putting this as the central point of the daily SCRUM meeting.

    Good blog post!

  2. Francois-

    Thanks! This is one of the byproducts I like the most about our change.

  3. Good post, I totally agree...

    I am coaching Scrum and Agile in South Africa and yes, one has to mature teams over time, sometimes the team needs guidance like walking the board in order to become mature...

    Another reason why I am coaching my customer teams to walk the board in this fashion is to let them understand the idea of prioritisation and 'done'

    We work on the highest priority story first as a team as far as possible and we finish it before we move on, as far as possible...

    I agree, the room is much more exciting this way, people get excited working as a team...

    Walking the board this way may not be by-the-book, but in my experience, it works wonders!

    Thanks for the post... I am going to refer to this post for my teams at

    Arrie van der Dussen
    Agile Business Manager