Online Scrum Tools - Part 1 - The Scrum Board

Whilst my current passion remains iOS development, I have found that much of my spare time of late has been dominated by a search for online Scrum tools to use in my new role as a Scrum Master for 2 Scrum teams at work.

When we had our Scrum training back at the start of May, we were told to concentrate on the framework we were trying to adopt, and not to obsess about finding the latest and greatest tools to use. These were wise words, as it would take time to discover what features we wanted from our tools.

What did we start with? A traditional Scrum Board (Whiteboard and Post-it notes), with a spreadsheet donated to us by the fine folks at Clarus (who also gave us some great training and mentoring). They had refined the spreadsheet after assisting in several implementations of Scrum, so it seemed like a good place to start.

Prior to the Daily Stand Up, everyone would update the items on the board with hours spent on the task, and the new estimate of hours remaining, (e.g. 4/1), and then reference this during the Stand Up.

It was then my job to update the spreadsheet with the new estimates of time remaining (to update the Burn Down Chart), along with recording any variations between hours spent on tasks compared to the initial estimates, so that these could be examined during the Sprint Retrospective.

I was very happy with the format of the spreadsheet itself, and what it was trying to achieve, but it was taking me a good 30-45 minutes to update both spreadsheets, so being a typically inquisitive developer, I went looking for a better way.

I signed up for a lot of trials - SeeNowDo, Jira with Greenhopper, ScrumDo, and about 20 others who invariably had "Scrum" somewhere in the URL. Some looked pretty, most were expensive, but all failed to match the functionality that we had in the spreadsheet, most specifically when it came to recording both hours worked and hours remaining.

It was at this point I dreamed (often literally) of developing a Web App that would do exactly what I wanted. Tempting as this was, it soon dawned on me that it would be a foolhardy decision for one simple reason - Scrum is a simple framework, but it still leaves those who implement it a fair bit of rope when it comes to how they do certain things. Some burn down points rather than hours, and many probably don't care about the hours that they've worked, looking only at what's remaining.

The team where happy with the physical Scrum Board, appreciating the visual representation it gave of the state of the Sprint, so we knew that we weren't looking for an web based replacement - we just wanted somewhere online where we could view/update the state of the Sprint, and we wanted it for what I believe were valid reasons:

  1. The Scrum team is split between Christchurch and Auckland (although the dev team are all in Christchurch), so visibility from both sites was important.
  2. Many of the team have young children, so people often work from home because they've caught a random virus from their walking, talking petri-dishes, or they need to stay home to look after sick kids.
  3. We live in Christchurch and the earth has been known to move a bit down here - we spent 3 months last year all working from home after our office was deemed to be unsafe, so it would be good to be able to all work remotely should the need (hopefully not) arise.

After further thought about what was important, we took the key parts of the original spreadsheet, stripped out some stuff we weren't using, added some bits that were missing, and put it in Google Docs (Here's a copy).

The beauty of having it in Google Docs, is that it can be accessed anywhere, any time, by any number of concurrent users, and there is a full revision history.

Scrum Sprint Spreadsheet  - Story/Task Sheet
Scrum Sprint Spreadsheet - Story/Task Sheet
Scrum Sprint Spreadsheet - Review Sheet
Scrum Sprint Spreadsheet - Review Sheet

So far it's working really well - both teams have been really good at maintaining the spreadsheet themselves, and I've gained back nearly an hour of my day.

Sure there may be some fancy tools out there, but this is free, flexible (which is important in an agile environment), and has sufficiently scratched my itch so that I am no longer googling "Online Scrum Board".

Thanks again to Clarus for the great training, mentoring (without which we would now be floundering instead of flourishing), and original spreadsheet, which was the genesis of what we use now.

For those that skipped to the end (Shame on you) - you can find the spreadsheet here.

I've also added posts about my search for an Online Product Backlog, importing a product backlog into Trello, and backing up Trello into a Google Spreadsheet.

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