How to Spot a Sick Agile Board At Twenty Paces

Episode 19 - 20 Jan 2016

Can you tell if your Agile team is in trouble - just by looking at the Agile Board?

From a distance?

While a healthy-looking board is no guarantee of a healthy and productive team...

... a sick-looking board can be strong indicator that something is wrong.

In this video, we'll look at a couple of healthy boards - one Scrum, one Kanban. We'll then go on to look at some absolute stinkers.

Seen better/worse?

If you've spotted stinker of a board "in the wild", I'd love to hear about it.

This is you.

This is your glass-walled office.

From the comfort of your executive chair you can see your Dev team's Agile board.

Question: without getting up and with no other information, can you tell if the project is in trouble?

It's staring you in the face

Not too long ago, I worked at a start-up. It was one of the most high pressure environments I've ever worked in.

One things that added to the DISPLEASURE of working there was that the Dev Team was required to provide daily status updates.

(This was in addition to daily stand-ups.)

To cut a long story short, we all hated doing it.

I remember thinking to myself

"The bosses only need to look at the state of our Agile board to see what trouble we're in".

I've since became a collector of dodgy-looking Agile boards. And I'd love your help to add to my the collection.

More on that at the end.


First things first. let's remind ourselves what a healthy board looks like.

Starting with a Scrum board.

As we've seen before, Scrum starts by selecting a Spirit's worth of tasks...

And then getting to work.

The cards flow across the board.

And by the end of the sprint , most - if not all - of the cards should have made it from one side to the other.

Ready to be released.

The process then repeats, with a new set of tasks being selected firm the backlog.

A Kanban board has a different shape.

it doesn't have the "periodic" property of the Scrum board: cards move across the board in a more or less continuous fashion.


When we go spotting Agile boards in the wild, we won't be able to see them in motion. So let's just check that we can identify snapshots.

First of all: Scrum or Kanban?

Well, the cards are quite evenly spread, so it's likely to be a Kanban board.

There are not too many cards on the board, so the work in progress (WIP) here is nice and low. I'd be happy to give this board a clean bill of health.

What about this one.

Most of the cards are to the left, so it's most likely that we're looking at a Scrum board - and we're looking at the early stages of a sprint.

(If it's a Kanban team - or if it's a Scrum team in the late stages of a sprint - then something is very wrong.)

As before, not too many cards on the board, and not too many cards in one column. So again, I'd give this one a clean bill of health.

Now that we're warmed up, let's have a look at come stinkers.

Stinker No. 1 - Problems Developing

We've come across this one in an earlier episode.

Not sure we can say much about Test or Release, but there's something very wrong with the Dev column.

I suppose it's possible that this team has 20+ developers...

  • but if they do, why are 20+ developers working in the in the same Agile team?

It's likely that many of the cards in this column are blocked,

which is a symptom of starting development work on a task too early.

This team might benefit from a bit more design work, before they dive into Dev.

Let's move on.

Stinker No. 2 - Testing Times

In this case, it looks like the dev team has been playing a blinder,

with the result that things are piling up in the Test column.

Now, I wouldn't say this was a project team in trouble, but what I'd like to see happen at this point is that the Devs would STOP developing and START lending a hand with some testing.

(Your devs aren't too "big" to test. Are they?)

Let's move on again.

Stinker No. 3 - Please Release Me

Here we have a project team that's having all kinds of problems getting things released.

Possible causes?

Perhaps Release is the hands of an over-zealous systems admin, who's not willing to share his keys.

Or it might just be that we've caught this board at a bad time.

I know that there are companies that have have release freezes at certain times of the year (for example, Xmas).

It might be that if we saw this board again in a coouple of weeks, the whole thing might be looking more healthy.

Stinker No. 3 - The Turkey

What about this one?

I call this one the turkey, because it's absolutely stuffed.

I think we can assume it's a Kansan board: there's no evidence of any ebb and flow that we would expect to see on a Scrum board.

There's so much I could say about this board, but let's keep it really simple:

there's far too much work in progress, there'll be context switching happening all over the place. Work is moving through this system at a crawl.

Basically... there's just no agile left.

Help me build my collection

As I mentioned earlier, I'd love to add to my collection of dodgy Agile boards....

... and for that I need your help.

Have you spotted a board in the "wild" that absolutely stopped you in your tracks? If so I'd love to hear about it.

And If you could share a picture of it that would be even better.

Thanks in advance for you help, and I look forward to talking with you next time.