The first time I remember seeing a scrum board was while watching HBO’s Silicon Valley: Jared introduces Scrum to the Pied Piper team after noticing that the team is experiencing some communication issues. He provides the team with a bright and colorful scrum board consisting of status columns, epics, and user stories. While Jared’s scrum board may appear to be a superfluous visual it’s actually a vital tool for improving team performance.
So Why Do Scrum Boards Work?
In my opinion there are two main reasons why scrum boards are effective: (1) they increase transparency and (2) they help to motivate people.
Please keep in mind that my explanations below assume that a scrum board is well maintained meaning that cards are moved promptly when statuses are changed and that the board reflects the totality of the work for a sprint.
Scrum is an empirical process, meaning that the success of scrum relies on observation and experiment. Scrum boards enable empiricism by providing transparency to a team’s progress. Having transparency allows teams to inspect their performance and adapt their approach. For example, imagine that the Pied Piper team notices a build-up of user stories in the testing column of their scrum board. This build-up of user stories provides the team with visual evidence that there may be an impediment to testing. The team can then inspect their performance and try to uncover any impediments to testing; after an impediment is discovered, the team has the opportunity to adapt to the situation to better their performance.
A second benefit of increased transparency is that it helps prevent duplicate efforts. In the Silicon Valley scrum scene Dinesh and Gilfoyle realize that they both completed the same task as a result of lack of communication. Having an up-to-date scrum board can prevent duplicate efforts by keeping all team members abreast of what work is in progress, what work has been completed, and what work has yet to be started.
In addition to providing increased transparency, scrum boards can also help with motivation. Moving cards across a scrum board invokes a sense of accomplishment which may be the result of increased levels of Dopamine. Dopamine is a happiness chemical in the brain that allows us to recognize and work towards rewards. The simple but satisfying action of moving a user story to the Done column of a scrum board can actually increase a person’s level of Dopamine. So, when a team celebrates completing a user story, team members’ brains are rewarded with Dopamine which then motivates them to work towards the next reward.
Beyond The Checklist
Scrum boards take checklists to the next level. Instead of a simple list, a scrum board is a dynamic visual tool that allows you to outline your work and track your progress. For teams, a scrum board helps increase transparency and boost motivation which can lead to improved team performance. But you don’t need to be part of a scrum team to benefit from a scrum board; a scrum board is a great personal tool as well. Scrum boards can help you organize and keep track of your personal ventures such as planning a trip or completing a home renovation project. If you would like to experiment with using a scrum board for a team or just for yourself check out my Scrum Board Template on Trello!