Lots of development teams these days practice Agile methodologies, and the task board is typically the hub of activity for those teams. Even non-Agile teams can benefit from the simplicity of a task or Kanban board, where the status of tasks and next steps for each piece of work are readily visible to the entire team.
In most cases, teams start off with a large sheet of paper on the wall, or they commandeer a whiteboard in a little-used conference room. If they're lucky, they'll convince management to splurge on a giant whiteboard (those things are expensive!), which they hang on the wall in a common area. Then the team sketches out their columns and swim lanes, buys a half dozen different colors of sticky notes, and transfers everything onto the sticky notes. It's a fairly quick process, and the move to a task board delivers real benefits in my experience.
So why consider investing in an electronic or virtual task board? Following are 3 benefits I've seen teams gain when moving from a physical to a virtual task board.
A virtual task board enables remote workers to feel like part of the team, and allows them to contribute to stand ups and other status meetings in real-time.
Physical task boards are considered optimal for co-located teams because they allow the team to meet in person where communication (including non-verbal cues) is easier and more effective. In talking with our customers, though, I've not met a team yet that was 100% co-located. With technology these days, companies prefer to hire where the talent is and use technology to integrate remote team members into one cohesive unit. It's hard enough for remote workers to feel like they're part of the team and culture—getting status updates from the Scrum Master via email or chat just isn't going to cut it.
Even with co-located teams, the mobility of a virtual board is beneficial. A white board hung on the wall is great for the team's daily stand up, but is kind of useless when management pulls everyone into a conference room to discuss project status.
Pro Tip: When using virtual task boards, co-located team members should still gather in a common area for the daily stand up.
A virtual task board provides easy configuration options, so it can evolve as the team's development process evolves and also allows the team to configure different views of the same work.
No team adopts Agile practices "by the book"—there are always tweaks needed to support the culture or business needs of the company. As time goes on, the team learns how they work best together and continues to make tweaks and changes to create their flavor of Agile. This process of continuous improvement is difficult with physical task boards. Imagine you need to add a column to handle client acceptance testing, essentially that means erasing and re-creating the entire board just to make room for one additional column. If someone on the team has an idea they want to try, there's no easy way to revert back to the old board layout if the idea doesn't work.
In addition to supporting continuous improvement, the best virtual task boards enable the team to configure different views into the same work effort. The Agile team is interested in moving work from the Backlog to Done, and can have a task board to manage that process. The project architect wants a board where the different phases of design are broken down, but doesn't care about work that is in testing or completed.
A virtual task board backed up by a robust database engine makes gathering project and team metrics a cinch.
Compiling a burn-up chart for the current sprint or measuring a team's velocity requires additional work if you're using a physical task board. Often times this means the Scrum Master has to track data in Excel, compile it weekly, and disseminate reports. Sounds like a cheesy project manager training video from 1991 to me! Virtual task boards compile all of this data on the fly as the team updates work items and moves them through the development process. With the right tool, that data can sliced and diced in a variety of ways then easily be made visible to the team, management, and even external stakeholders if necessary.