Many of you are, no doubt, already familiar with Scrum. This framework employs an Agile mindset to develop, deliver, and maintain complex projects, emphasizing software and application development. However, if you’re not familiar with the methodology, there are plenty of Scrum resources out there that can get you up to speed.

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Both Scrum and Kanban use Agile practices, but today we’re focusing on Scrum. If you’re planning on using Scrum, you will have to understand Scrum boards, the essential central part of any Scrum sprint and a valuable project management resource. In fact, you could say you can’t have a Scrum without one! This article covers Scrum boards, what they are, how to use them, and the difference between the physical and virtual types.

Let’s start with the basics. What’s a Scrum board?

What is a Scrum Board?

Scrums are broken down into time-boxed iterations named sprints, lasting between one and four weeks. Most development teams shoot for two-week sprints.

Scrum boards are visual project management tools that help Scrum teams visualize backlog items and work progress. Scrum boards track individual sprints and help team members visualize their progress. Scrum boards are also known as Scrum task boards or sprint boards. Humans are visual creatures, and the Scrum board builds on that by helping team members better understand the sprint's progress.

Scrum teams are responsible for updating and maintaining the Scrum board. The board helps team members see who is doing what tasks and how much work is currently in progress. Think of the board as a “to-do” list that you may set up for yourself for running errands, but you decided to expand the list to include specific categories to show what chores you’re in the middle of doing and which chores you completed!

Scrum boards can be either an actual physical board, like a whiteboard, or a virtual version through online software. In either case, it has the same purpose: showing the team where they’ve been in the sprint and where they’re going.

Benefits of a Scrum Board

When it comes to Scrum board benefits, it’s easy to throw around terms like “transparency” and “teamwork”, but that’s not enough. So here are some noteworthy advantages to using a Scrum board.

  • You quickly know where things stand. Scrum boards promote visibility. You can just walk by and glance at the board to see where the team is in the specific iteration.
  • Newcomers can catch up quickly. Scrum boards are great for giving new teams a good grasp of the process.
  • It facilitates and promotes conversation and interaction. For example, if you set up the board in a high-traffic area, everyone can see it (e.g., teammates, members of other teams, stakeholders, management). This visibility encourages discussion.
  • It supports a total team commitment. The board shows team members how each task is progressing, thereby keeping people focused on their work. This commitment, in turn, helps team members do their job more efficiently and quickly, freeing them up to help other members who haven’t finished their tasks yet. Scrum boards promote teamwork!

So now that we know that Scrum boards are an excellent tool with so much to offer the team, how do you use them? Where does one even start?

How Do You Use a Scrum Board?

When figuring out how to use a Scrum board, the first thing to remember is that there is no one ultimate way to use one. You can customize a Scrum board to fit your needs — that’s one of its most significant selling points. But Scrum board differences go beyond a company’s unique needs. There are different formats to consider.

For instance, most teams break down a Scrum board into three columns: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” categories that need no explanation. However, some Scrum boards have a fourth column called “In Test.” This board version lists the columns as “To Do,” “Doing,” “In Test,” and “Done,” and is best suited for software development projects.

Scrum teams follow these steps:

  • Team members write each task on a sticky note and place them in the “To Do” column. Tasks must be prioritized.
  • Assign the tasks in the “To Do” column to the appropriate team members.
  • Move assigned tasks to the “In Progress” column. Note that if the tasks are sub-tasks of a bigger user story, keep the story’s sticky note in the “To Do” column until the team completes all the sub-tasks.
  • Move any “In Progress” tasks that need testing to the “In Test” column.
  • Move completed tasks (and tasks that passed the testing phase) into the “Done” column. If the team completes all sub-tasks related to a larger story, move the story to “Done.” If any tasks fail their testing, move them back to “In Progress” to show that the team is working on the fixes. Repeat as necessary.

Remember these golden rules of Scrum board management:

  • Don’t add new “To Do” items to the board until all current tasks are in the “Done” column.
  • Ensure maximum visibility by placing the Scrum board in an easy to access location.
  • The team should agree in advance on what defines “Done.” For example, are only the tasks done or have all the bugs been dealt with too?

These terms relate to Scrum boards and their use.

  • Product Backlog

A list of everything in the project that must be completed.

  • Sprint Backlog

A list of segmented tasks or user stories that are chosen and prioritized before starting the actual work.

  • User Story

User stories are product backlog items. Here’s a sample of a popular framing device: “As a (fill in the blank), I want to (fill in the blank) so I can (fill in the blank).

  • Epic

Epics are large projects, essentially one big user story further broken down into many smaller stories. Epics usually require multiple sprints to complete.

  • Burndown Charts

Burndown charts map the work completed and the work left to do against the assigned timeline. Thus, the chart measures the Scrum team’s progress. Many Scrum teams attach a burndown chart to the Scrum board.

  • Daily Standups

Daily standups are brief, daily meetings where the team gathers to talk about work and current challenges. Most standups happen around the Scrum board.

  • Retrospectives

Scrum teams hold this meeting at the end of the sprint. Members talk about the team’s Agile practices, the challenges they encountered, and what they can do better in the next sprint. As a result, retrospective notes get pinned to the Scrum board to remind the team to integrate the ideas into future sprints.

What is an Online Scrum Board?  Which is Better: Online or Physical?

Scrum teams aren’t limited to physical whiteboards. They can also build a virtual Scrum board using online software. Picture an Excel spreadsheet or a Google document that everyone has access to, but designed for Scrum team use.

Online Scrum board advantages include:

  • They are perfectly suited for teams whose members are scattered around the country (or world). Online Scrum boards make remote collaboration a simple reality.
  • It generates reports automatically, so everyone stays in the loop.
  • It allows many team members to work on it simultaneously, just like an Excel spreadsheet.
  • Everyone on the team can access the online board.
  • On the other hand, the team can restrict who can see the board.
  • Online boards are easily customizable.
  • They are well suited for dealing with cumbersome concepts such as Epics and other long-term projects.

So, which one is better? Hopefully this doesn’t sound like a cop-out, but it depends on the team’s situation. There are still pandemic-related restrictions in place, so having a remote collaboration resource flexibility is a great benefit.

But pandemic considerations aside, physical boards are best suited for small, localized teams because they promote face-to-face collaborations and interactions and help build a tight-knit, effective team. On the other hand, virtual Scrum boards are good for everything else, especially if there are geographical concerns and possible scalability issues in the future.

Scrum Board Examples

This example shows a simple, basic Scrum board, as seen at Zoho.

Here’s another generic Scrum board, but with a little more detail, provided by Kissflow.

Here’s a Scrum wheel on a whiteboard, thanks to

And lastly, here we see a virtual Scrum board, courtesy of Jira Software.

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