Physical story walls vs online story walls

This post is part of the Pride & Paradev series.

What type of story walls should you use?

Physical story walls are better than virtual story walls

There’s nothing like seeing the status of an iteration using a large story wall: several columns and colored index cards that move across as the iteration progresses. Avatars are stuck against cards as people work on them (which can limit WIP) and it’s very easy to see from a glance any bottlenecks as the cards literally pile up.

The act of moving a physical index card (representing a story) into the ‘done’ column is refreshing, as is ripping up a card when it decided that it will provide no value.

You can stick colored sticky notes to each user story in test to represent bugs which are squashed as they are fixed.

Daily stand ups are held around the story wall, and the physical story wall can be ‘walked’ during stand up to ensure that everything is up to date and nothing will be missed.

Online story walls are better than physical story walls

Physical story walls aren’t good for capturing what is actually required to deliver user stories (writing notes on the back can be very nebulous and hidden). Online story walls (such as Trello or Mingle) are great at both displaying the status of an iteration, as well as storing details and artifacts about each story. These include acceptance criteria that can be marked off when done, as well as a list of bugs against each user story which are marked off when fixed. Prototype designs can be attached and referred to by the programmer/designer/tester who is working on the user story.

If you have remote team members you can’t solely rely on a physical story wall, and even if you don’t, if team members choose to work from home (for example – late at night) then an online story wall makes a lot more sense as it is accessible from anywhere you have an internet connection.

A large screen 27″ iMac makes a great machine to have located centrally in your team to display the always on online story wall for all to see and update, plus you could hold your daily stand up around it.

Author: Alister Scott

Alister is an Excellence Wrangler for Automattic.

1 thought on “Physical story walls vs online story walls”

  1. Great question!!! I’m looking forward to the responses as I am currently wrestling with this dilema. There is no substitute for a physical wall. Extremely flexible, extremely visual (while a 27′ monitor is great, an 8 ft. wall is better), and if you do it right it can help your team to become extremely organized. I’m big on planning and risk-based testing. A big wall significantly helps both. It also becomes the “heart” of the team and the center of most team activity. Downside is no one outside of the room knows anything about what is on the wall. Reporting is also tough as you need to do a lot of extra work plugging numbers into spreadsheets and creating graphs.

    Online boards are great when you have remote team members (India, US, Australia, England) and you need to assign and track work. Fantastic if you have micro-managers who don’t want to leave their office but want to know all that is happening. Reporting is also improved as it is now more accurate, instant and usually there is more of it. Downside is there is no real “home” for the team and no real central gathering place. It is not as flexible, customizable and personalizable.


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