5 Tips for Using Scrum Boards

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A scrum board is a critical tool for successfully practicing its namesake, the agile framework, scrum. If you’re unfamiliar, scrum is useful for teams that work on complex, adaptive problems. It gives them the tools they need to stay productive and creative while developing deliverables of high quality.

While simple in its framework, it is highly effective for collaborative teams that are creating complicated products. In short, scrum is lightweight, simple to understand, but difficult to master—even with the help of scrum software.

Intro to Scrum

In terms of team dynamics, scrum provides autonomy to every member. Teams are self-directed, so they’re able to quickly deal with the unpredictable changes inherent in any project. The scrum team is made up of a product owner, development team and scrum master. The product owner manages the product backlog, and the scrum master is the expert who acts as a guide for the team. This flexible, self-directed team works in what’s known as sprints.

Sprints are short periods where the team is working on a specific set of work. The work done over a sprint by the team is taken from what is called a sprint backlog. A sprint backlog contains tasks that the scrum team has identified as needing to be done over a sprint. The items from the sprint backlog that are selected for completion during the sprint are decided on by the team during a sprint planning meeting.

The items selected are usually user stories, which are short and simple feature descriptions. User stories are written from the perspective of whoever is requesting the new feature or capability, hence the name user, though it could also be a customer. So, now that we’ve done a quick overview, how does the scrum board help all of these things come together?

What Is a Scrum Board?

Picture the scrum board as tool that keeps the backlog clear for the team as they work. The backlog is made visual with the use of a scrum board. It’s like a task list in that team members can update the board throughout the sprint if someone thinks of a new task.

A scrum board can be an actual physical board, but it can also be virtual. Either way, it serves the same purpose. It is constantly updated by the team as needed and shows all the items that must be done by the end of the current sprint.

scrum board example in ProjectManager.com
An example of a scrum board in ProjectManager.com—Learn more

The Elements of a Scrum Board

A scrum board is made up of columns that teams use to identify categories that fit their workflow. These columns are typically labeled on top as user stories, to do, work in progress (WIP), to verify or test and done. But it’s best to keep the number of columns small. You want a board that’s easy to use.

Each user story moves from column to column. It is represented by a card that moves as it gets worked on and eventually completed. There is one row per user story in the backlog.

Related: Scrum vs. Kanban, Which is Better?

The user story is usually written on a card, whether physical or virtual, like a Post-It note. The card is usually defined by a title, description, the criteria for acceptance, the size of effort needed to complete it, priority, what the business value is, any dependencies and whatever other information is considered pertinent to the scope of the sprint.

There are also tasks on the board, which is not the same as a user story. The user story is, again, something requested by the end-user or client. Therefore, it is a feature that will be visible to them. It is something that will require more than one team member to complete.

A task, however, is more specific and tends to be assigned to one person to complete. That is, a user story contains more than just one type of work and a task is a single type of work. Both, though, do travel across the columns of the scrum board as they are worked on.

There is also a sprint burndown chart, which is a graphic representation of the rate at which a team is completing their work. It also shows what is left to do. It is an effective reporting tool for the team, in that it shows their progress not in time spent but in how much work is still to be done.

5 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Scrum Board

The scrum board is a tool, but if you don’t know how to use it then it’s not going to be effective. When working in a scrum framework there are a number of things you can do to get the most out of it. Here are some tips.

1. Hold Effective Scrum Ceremonies

No surprise here. Clear communication is the stepping stone to almost any successful venture. In scrum, the basic platform for communication is the daily scrum. That is, a meeting in which these three questions are answered: What did we do yesterday? What are we planning to do today? Is there anything holding us back? Scrum ceremonies are short and focused. They should have a clear scope and tight deadlines to make sure that progress is reflected on the scrum board.

2. Create Detailed Tasks

Tasks are small jobs, which usually require only a single team member to complete. The work probably takes one day or less to complete. The task is breaking the user story down and should be clearly defined. The team should discuss the task and its parameters with the product owner, so they know the expected results. This is done during the sprint planning meeting. You want to give the team enough detail to get the task done and implement that part of the user story, without getting them bogged down in any unnecessary processes. That means having clear definitions of “ready” and “done”.

3. Properly Assign Resources

This is where the scrum master shows their importance. They are the facilitator of all things scrum, being experts in the framework. They help the team optimize their transparency and delivery flow, but also schedule the resources, whether people or logistical. When the scrum master is assigning these resources properly, the sprint will proceed more efficiently and effectively.

4. Keep Everything Visible

The scrum board is a tool that also has the goal of providing transparency into the process. The board gives everyone on the scrum team visibility into who is working on what, if there are any bottlenecks, how long a team member is working on something, if any part of the workflow is blocking the process, etc. This includes the key stakeholders, who have a vested interest in the progress of the project. Be sure to include everything that’s relevant to the sprint on the board, so it can be a single, trusted source of information.

5. Limit Items in Each Column

That being said, you don’t want to overload the board with tasks. It defeats the purpose of keeping the team focused on what is ready to be worked on. A good criteria is to only add to the column where there is capacity to complete. On the flipside, you want to make sure the team has enough to work on. The trick is finding the balance between feast and famine. If you’re experiencing bottlenecks, you don’t have a balanced workflow and might want to stop work until it’s cleared up.

ProjectManager.com and Scrum Boards

ProjectManager.com is a great tool for scrum teams. You can use our customizable board tool to make a scrum board that matches your team’s needs.

Our scrum boards make workflow transparent and accessible for all members of the scrum team. When user stories or tasks are updated, that information is instantly reflected on our cloud-based software. Team members get notifications, so nothing falls through the cracks.

Since our scrum boards are customizable, you can use whatever nomenclature that you want. User stories and tasks are also customizable and simply move from column to column by dragging and dropping them where you want. The cards can be filtered by priority for easy filtering. Scrum teams will always know what is next on their to-do list.

screenshot of scrum board in ProjectManager.com
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Speaking of to-do lists, our boards give self-directed teams the features they want to act more autonomously. They can create their own to-do lists on the user story or task and manage their own work in the sprint. The cards are also helpful for collaboration, giving team members room to comment at the task level and add as many files as they want to the card.

Assignments can be made from the board view, but also any of the other views. Cards have a start date and due date to keep the sprint on track.

Advanced Reporting

But what really sets us apart is our reporting features. All of our scrum boards are connected to a sophisticated reporting system. One-click reports keep product owners updated on progress, variance, task completion percentages and much more. There’s also a dashboard that tracks six project metrics that give stakeholders a bird’s-eye view of how the project is progressing. It’s a perfect agile tool for task management in scrum sprints.

ProjectManager.com is a cloud-based project management software. Designed to work with agile, waterfall or hybrid methodologies, we have the flexibility to keep projects on track and facilitate collaboration among team members. Use ProjectManager.com to plan, monitor and report on your next project by taking this free 30-day trial now.

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