Electronic Tools – Friend or Foe?

There is a plethora of electronic tools available to help manage an Agile team’s product and project work items. VersionOne, Agile Central, Jira, Pivotal Tracker, Visual Studio Team Services – the list gets longer every day. With so many tools available in the industry, it’s almost a project in itself to select one that offers all the features your organization thinks they need and within budget. Organizations that are in the early adoption phase of introducing Agile can easily become overwhelmed with the variety of features available, especially when they haven’t figured out what methods or concepts are going to work best in their effort to manage and maintain product backlogs, user stories, reporting metrics, etc. In the Sketch Intro to Agile Bootcamp class, participants often express their pitfalls working within electronic tools and how they can become barriers to progress.

In a recent class, a new Agile team explained that instead of daily face-to-face stand-ups, their team commits to reviewing the electronic task board to monitor daily progress. I think about this in the context of the Agile Manifesto and the 12 Agile principles, specifically valuing “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” and “the most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” Electronic tools are valuable and needed to help manage many aspects of an Agile team’s success but they aren’t a replacement for the need of face-to-face interaction.

As a ScrumMaster, I’ve observed that communication and progress suffer due to solely relying on an electronic tool to communicate. Teams have a tendency to think that the tool is what makes them Agile. To combat this issue, I like to go old school and simply rely on whiteboards, sticky notes and index cards until it makes sense to input ideas into a tool.

Deepak Joshi explains in “The Power of a Whiteboard During Meetings” the use of whiteboards actually keeps teams communicating, which has also allowed team members to feel valued. The message I leave with classroom participants is to keep interacting during Scrum rituals face-to-face versus hiding behind laptops working within an electronic tool.

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