There is often discussion in the Scrum community over whether a physical or electronic (e.g. JIRA) task board is better. In reality they both have advantages and which you prefer will depend on your team. Below I look at some of the advantages of each.
Automatically create reports and charts
One of the main advantages of JIRA is that it automatically creates reports for you so you don’t have to collect the data manually. When using a physical board and you want to create a Burn Down Chart, you have to know when a task has been Done and record its story points. You also have to bear in mind how your chart will be updated and displayed – if you’re using a paper chart, you’ll need to print a new one every day.
With an electronic board, the charts are updated instantly and you can adjust their parameters to easily see the data you want.
Add comments/attachments to a task
Physical task cards/sticky notes don’t have any space for additional comments, documents or images, so these must be stored in another way. An electronic board can show/hide information as required and adapt its display to show this information. This can make it easier to convey ideas to other team members, or to show a bug in action.
Easily filter tasks
By default, JIRA has two filters set up that allow you to show only issues assigned to your, or recently updated issues. But you can easily create custom filters to display only the issues that you want. You can do this using the JIRA Query Language (JQL). This is especially useful when you have a large number of tasks on the board and you only want to show certain ones – doing this on a physical board would be much more difficult.
Easily create a Wallboard to radiate information
You can easily create a Wallboard in JIRA that will act as an information radiator. Of course you could also do this with a physical wallboard, but using an electronic board means that the information is automatically refreshed so it’s always up to date.
Better for distributed teams
One of the largest advantages of JIRA is that it allows distributed teams to easily see an up to date, synchronised board without the need for the Scrum Master to coordinate updating each teams Scrum board.
More sense of accomplishment when moving a card
Developers often get more enjoyment from moving a piece of card on a board than from dragging and dropping in an online system. Perhaps it’s because it allows them to step away from the computer for a while or just because of the tactile action it involves.
A physical board is immediately accessible by anyone who visits the location it’s kept. They don’t need to know an URL, or login to a system in order to view the status of the Sprint. An electronic board can mitigate these issues by utilising a wallboard that doesn’t require a login and can be displayed in the same way a physical board would.
The interface of a physical board is often kept quite simple. This may be partly due to the fact that there simply isn’t space to include comments, labels, etc, like you can on JIRA. But how many of JIRA’s issue properties do you actually use and how many add unnecessary complexity?
One of the arguments against electronic board such as JIRA, are that they don’t get updated, possibly because they’re not as accessible as a physical board. But an electronic board can still be made as accessible as a physical board. Simply display the board on a large screen/projector, in the same location you’d have your physical board. If you’re able to utilise a touch screen, team members can physically drag and drop tasks, similar to what they’d do on a physical board.
But at the end of the day the correct approach is to do what works best for your team. Use the empirical approach of Scrum to try new things – perhaps for the next Sprint you can try using a physical board and see how it works. Or if you’re already doing that, give JIRA or one of the alternatives a try.