My conversion to agile project manager has taken a colourful turn: I think I might be addicted to post-it notes.
At Black Pepper we write all of the requirements of a project (stories) onto post-it notes and stick them on a whiteboard which we then move as the stories glide through the development life cycle. My current board has the following columns:
- Ready for estimating
- Estimated backlog
- Next iteration (tbc)
- This iteration
- In development
- In testing
- Ready for showcase
- Ready for live
- Live (Whoop Whoop!!)
The whiteboard, when used in this way, is called a story board or card wall.
There is nothing more exciting (during my working day) than seeing post-it notes fly around a story board. My favourite move is from 'In development' into 'In testing' closely followed by the move from 'In development'' to 'Ready for showcase'. The first move means that a developer has finished their work on a story and it can now be hauled over by the testers and the second means the work has passed testing and can be shown to the customer for sign off. There's usually a bit of a lull at the start of an iteration when the biggest cards are being worked on as they stay dormant in the in dev column before the flying starts really happening. I love seeing a post-it move into testing, it makes me smile so god knows what it does for the spirits of the developer who actually got to move it!
The post-it wall is the hub of the project often called an information radiator. It is informative, motivational, exciting, sparks discussion and one glance gives you an instant overview of the entire iteration. I like it most when it is colour coded for different types of work e.g stories, bugs, spikes and tasks and like it least when it gets messy. Note to self – must tidy card wall.
The story board makes it utterly obvious when there are blockages e.g. lots of work to be tested before it can be showcased or when there are gaps e.g. developer about to become free and all iteration stories complete, aka utopia.
The big and visible thing goes further than the story wall. Anything big and visible seems to help with communication and decision making. Our team has been talking about formulating the product road map for some time and I was hitting a brick wall as to how to actually present the backlog in a way we could discuss and prioritise it. Story numbers and a list of 150 items on a screen does not set the tone for a useful meeting.
To tackle the road map, our business analyst and I started writing themes and backlog items on a whiteboard in a Vanessa Feltz big brother stylee and hey presto the backlog is visible and we are ready to talk priorities. Only slight issue with this method is we may have raised the developers blood pressure a little when they saw the amount of work lined up but you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs. A massive backlog can instantly become less scary with some prioritisation.
I'm now struggling to hold meetings without bringing post-its along with me, they are invaluable in retrospectives and I particularly enjoy a Bruce Forsyth style higher or lower (priority) iteration planning meeting. Is Card A more or less important than Card B? Is it lower than C? Etc.
The beauty of a story board is that it is in everyone’s face. There is no need to search the company files for the project spreadsheet or look through the list of stories in Jira. Walk into the room, look at the board, leave informed.
I have to admit to having a post-it wall at home with a simple 'to do', 'doing' and 'done' system. My boyfriend made the mistake of saying that he couldn't possible help with the list of wedding jobs because they were all hidden in my head. A plain canvas, some scrabble letters and a pack of post-its later and ta da my head was de-cluttered and the size of the project and list of jobs was instantly clear.
To summarise – there is no better way of showing people things than to make the thing you are showing them very visible, very big and very colourful. Long live the post-it note.