Why I Don’t Like Whiteboards, the Last Sacred Cow and Why I Will Burn in Scrum Hell

I doubt there are many people in this world who have the passion or spend more time researching about Agile than I do. Over the years I have seen many sacred Agile/Scrum cows questioned. Usually when one has the guts to do so there are scores of Agilistas ready to denounce anything that goes against their indoctrinated Agile/Scrum education. It seems that many fail to understand that in order to prove the value of something, it must always be questioned. Hell, the whole damn thing started because a few folks decided they would question orthodoxy and find better ways to do things.

And now I think I have found the very last sacred cow remaining. Over the past few weeks, whenever I have some spare moments, I have googled, binged and read blog after blog. My search – is there anyone else out there who really doesn’t care for Agile/Scrum whiteboards. I can say from experience that it appears unanimous. Every person talking about Agile or doing Agile absolutely, positively, without question loves Agile whiteboards to track iterations. All that is except me. Yet I cannot hold my tongue any longer. I know I will go to Scrum hell, but I have always had a strong distaste for Agile boards.

But why? You ask. Since I probably have a few moments before the grim reaper rips me from my current existence, let me at least try my best to give reasons why I don’t particularly care for whiteboards. Before I do that, let me first say, I do not propose that teams not use whiteboards. I am into whatever works. I have two teams currently – one that uses whiteboard and another that doesn’t. They both deliver working software at approximately the same rate every sprint so I allow them to do what they feel works best.

My main reason for not liking whiteboards has to do with software developers eating their own dog food. If, as a very professional class of people whose sole job is to create software solutions to real world problems, we cannot create a software solution that can adequately address our own business issues, who in the world can we expect our clients to expect us to deliver a software solution to their real-world issues. Maybe Chaos findings of failed projects are just showing that many attempts to deliver software solutions to business problems are misguided in that it is not possible to even produce a software solution to some particular real world business issues and our clients should not even pursue them but embrace whiteboards and sticky notes to conduct their business as well.

It has always been a source of pride with Agilistas that we can do Agile without software solutions. “Look,” they say, “we can effectively do this with sticky notes and a board.” I wonder if this bit of dogma is not more related to consultants being able to charge more money because their advice doesn’t come with any additional costs. In other words, just pay me an great deal of money but you don’t have to worry that I am going to try to up-sell you on something like a software solution.

I have always been embarrassed by the whiteboard. It signifies our own inability to have a software solution to a problem. I find it particularly vexing when I talk to business folks in our scrum room, explaining how we can solve their problems with software while they look over my head at the low-tech solution we have to solving our own problems. Also, the board to me just looks tacky. This is not some slick Steve Jobs solution. This is something that is garish to behold. I know that development is sometimes chaotic, but isn’t it through harnessing the chaotic with software solutions that we find the greatest beauty.

I am sure that in the future my teams will continue to use whiteboards and we will continue to build quality software on an iterative basis, but I hope that someday we software developers can come with an alternative to whiteboards that can show our clients and the world that software can truly be used effectively to solve real world complex issues like how to build software. Anyone else agree? Please comment so I can say hello in scrum hell.

1 Comment

  • John Perkins says:

    I agree. I have never been a fan of whiteboards either. Maybe with new technology we can come up with some kind of touch screen that will replace these soon.

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