10 Reasons why using a whiteboard is better than a digital tool

I’m a big fan of whiteboards. I’ve got a bit of a reputation at work as someone with an unhealthy desire for many whiteboards. As I sit here, I can see seven. There are three more in the office I can’t see and another four waiting delivery.

Buy whiteboard: done
"Buy whiteboard: done" by Mark.Pilgrim

Ron Jefferies speaks at length about how big visible charts are a “good thing” (he echos Alistair Cockburns sentiments on having Information Radiators) and so, in the name of throw-away blogging, and because I don’t have any link baiting “10 reasons why… ” posts, I thought I’d add one. 😉

  1. The elephant in the room.
    Whiteboards are there in the room with you. You can’t do anything without having it there, reminding you it’s there and what is on it. With a digital tool, you need to go and find it, on the web, on the intranet, on demand.
  2. The ice breaker.
    They start conversations. People will gather around a whiteboard (especially if it is a sprint backlog) and discuss its content.
  3. The flexibility.
    Things can be changed, moved around, re-ordered, annotated, etc etc without fuss or hassle.
  4. The process.
    The manifesto says “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools”. Use the flexibility of a whiteboard to help hone your process, before committing to a tool which defines a process for you. The structure can be changed REALLY easily. Need a new column? Different chart? Another colour? Silly picture? Stick it up there, instantly with a pen. You’ll probably need to program, request or configure these changes with a digital tool, which takes a LOT longer.
  5. The culture.
    They help a team define their culture. Each sprint backlog whiteboard where I work is a little artefact which reflects the culture of the team and it’s members. One is clean accurate and ordered neatly, another is messy and colourful with pictures of Transformers. You can tell a lot about a team from the sprint backlog whiteboard.
  6. The collaboration.
    Product owners, stakeholders and interested parties can see what a team are up to and, importantly, collaborate with the team as they’re standing next to them when looking at their board.
  7. The disposable information.
    You only need to measure something for as long as it is useful. Need to chart the performance of your tests over a release period? Perhaps you want to chart users of a particular feature temporarily? The whiteboard allows you to track this information, with no overhead and comparatively little investment compared to a digital tool.
  8. The doodle.
    If you’re trying to explain something to more than one person, a doodle, or sketch may help (especially in development, when you might be describing a class structure, or some architecture). You’ve already got a whiteboard in your team area for your sprint backlog, use the other side?
  9. The wheels.
    I advocate whiteboards on wheels, these can be dragged back and forth between the team area and meeting rooms if needed. You don’t have to worry about logging in to a meeting room PC, getting the digital tool up, logging in to that, then increasing the resolution, or zooming with the browser so everyone can see, then clicking to the right section then … you see what I mean? Take your whiteboard and your pen.
  10. The end.
    Often it’s nice, when you reach the end of a release window or the end of your tether, to just wipe the board clean and start again. Get some solvent, give it a good clean, redraw your columns and start from fresh. It’s cathartic and cleansing.

3 thoughts on “10 Reasons why using a whiteboard is better than a digital tool

  1. I can only underline that 🙂 And you can self-build enormous ones cheaply covering a whole wall of a room. Acres of space to paint on. Don’t forget that it’s human nature to pain on walls. We do this since the ages in the caves 😉 And always a good moment to turn one’s back to the workstation.

  2. Great article! I think I would have to agree with this.. the objective of using a board is to get the message across and get more done, overall. Especially for small team, this may be the best way to go. I’ve been reading this article: http://kanbantool.com/blog/why-going-Agile-equals-visualization-of-workflow on the general idea of using graphic visualization for your work and I think, the point is: draw it up to communicate faster and achieve more in a shorter time. I’m now using a whiteboard at home (and my kids love it to such an extend, they got fighting over who shall do which chore, just to be able to slide the cards on the board..). For work we use a digital tool still, as the team is spread over the whole state, so a physical one would just not do.
    Let’s carry on using our eyes in the most effective way – to get colors representing tasks transporting the information quickly onto our minds. I love visual aids of this sort.

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