Sometimes paper is just better

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Being part of a new environment and meeting new people gives us a different perspective on things.  Let me tell you how I rediscovered paper (as well as handwriting).

I have been practising Scrum and Scrumbut for a few years now and I always had an online tool to help along.  Being guided by the “Go Paperless” slogan, I assumed that if it was online, it was simply better.  In many cases, I can safely say that online is better but I recently rediscovered the joys of paper.

In my current project, where Scrum (and not Scrumbut) is practised, we started out by maintaining the product backlog, iterations, stories, tasks and burn-down charts in JIRA.  The results were quite satisfying, especially since we have access to Geenhopper (Agile tab).  But updating the task board during the stand-ups felt a bit unnatural and broke the flow somewhat.

In the next iteration, our excellent agile coach, Alex Bould, suggested we maintain a paper version of our stories, tasks, burn-down charts and so on.  Being the open-minded and easy-going people we are, we gave it a go.  The experience was surprisingly positive.  The action of taking a card off the wall and putting it “in process” gave me an extra sense of ownership with regards to that card.  I was not only reading it, I was also touching it.  Maybe using more senses had a similar effect to enhanced understanding when reading something out loud.  Furthermore, writing tasks on cards (making it legible took a few tries), adding up quarter-days and hand drawing the burn-down chart engaged my team just a little bit more than the online version did.  Finally, being able to see the task wall along with the burn-down chart whenever we are in the office gives us a good sense of progression, not to mention that it is easier and cheaper to set up then higher technology versions.

An iteration later, we decided to go back to the online version to see how it compared with our new experience. Once again, the experience was good, but in the spring retrospective the team unanimously voted to revert back to the good old paper way, and we have not looked back since.

Disclaimer: It goes without saying that a few preconditions need to exist in order to adopt the paper way.  Having access to a large wall is essential and having a co-located team really helps.

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