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August 02, 2013

Physical Scrum Board vs. Trello – Which is Better?

3 mins read

You may be surprised by how often we are asked this question! Despite the growing number of tools emerging to help a team execute Scrum, there is often debate about the best tool to use to manage a Scrum board. Should your team stick with the note cards on a whiteboard approach or should you take the leap and go digital?

There are strong arguments for each side. And the truth is:  if you are already using Scrum, you are most likely headed in the right direction for your project team (or you’ve been using these practices for years and are thinking of upgrading your approach).

In this post, we will compare and contrast two popular options, the physical Scrum board versus the popular online Scrum tool, Trello.

Why a Physical Scrum Board?

Most Scrum experts agree, for teams new to Scrum, you should start with a physical Scrum board.

Why is this?  Starting with a physical board allows a team to establish their practices without letting the tool they choose dictate these for them.  Using a physical board also provides flexibility needed to arrange the board and the user stories however best suits the team.

Additionally, physical boards are cheap, easy to configure (which is great for a budget-conscious management team) and allow new teams to see the board evolve as it is being used and as your team achieves success.  Most importantly, the physical board is an information radiator that stokes conversation, not just within the team, but throughout the organization.  These conversations assist the team as it encourages them to become more collaborative and also can help sway Agile skeptics as they see success happening right before their eyes.

Why Trello?

Trello is a great option for experienced Scrum teams who may be ready to take their Agile practices to the next level.

While there are many options to help you manage your Scrum board electronically, the virtual Scrum board software Trello has taken on increasing popularity recently.  Trello is free, easy to set up, and provides distributed teams with a way to share and manage their Scrum board electronically. (Even from your phone.  Want to update a story while waiting in line for coffee?  Yes, please.)

While Trello’s configuration is not as flexible as the physical Scrum board, it’s easy-to-use interface will satisfy the needs of most teams.  Additionally, Trello’s clean and orderly appearance provides a more professional look if you choose to share it with anyone outside of your team, especially those at the executive level.  For those who are responsible for project reporting, Trello makes it easier to download and manipulate data to run reports and chart team progress.  This may prove to be a dream come true for those who need to see the hard numbers to prove that Agile is working.

While Trello is ideal for many, there are limitations.  The workflow used and the information captured by the story cards in Trello are well defined, and don’t allow teams the same amount of flexibility that a physical Scrum board would provide.  Additionally, while Trello is an excellent tool for managing a single project, it is not ideal for managing multiple projects or an entire portfolio.

Which to Choose?

If you are just starting out with Scrum, use a physical board to help you define your Agile practices.  Once these are established, explore electronic options including Trello if you are managing a single project.

Are you a Scrum board purist or a digital convert?  What tools are you using to manage your Scrum boards?

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