environment set-up :tags: [scrum,methodology]
In case you’re wondering how many whiteboards your Scrum team members need, the correct answer is ‘one each’.
The Scrum board is not a whiteboard
A development team often only has one whiteboard that gets used for the Scrum board, because it’s a convenient way to draw the board. Whiteboards aren’t just for the Scrum board: you need them for day-to-day discussions, because whiteboards are really rapid-prototyping tools for text and diagrams.
It’s a waste to write on paper stickies with a whiteboard marker, and then stick them to a whiteboard. Any flat surface would do, although you may get in trouble if you draw columns on the wall with a marker. Instead, you can just tape paper signs to the wall to indicate the Scrum board columns, such as To do and Done.
Scrum is all about verbal communication, which it emphasises over written documentation. Scrum does this for three reasons: to keep software requirements flexible until as late as possible in the development process, because verbal communication doesn’t take as long, and because a conversation between two people has higher bandwidth than writing a specification.
The highest bandwidth communication between two people is face-to-face verbal communication… plus a whiteboard. It’s a conversation with quick diagrams.
It matters that the diagrams are low-fidelity back-of-the-napkin-style diagrams, because these are quick to draw. If you draw diagrams on a computer, the diagramming software invokes a time warp: time slows down while you endlessly fiddle with box alignment and arrow placement. A picture is also worth a thousand words in that it takes just as long to produce.
Despite whiteboards’ usefulness, many teams have a shared whiteboard. Just one. If there’s only one whiteboard then there can only be one high-bandwidth conversation at a time. This isn’t what you want: centralised discussion is for old-fashioned school classrooms and meetings, not for productive teams. Treating a whiteboard marker like a team’s talking stick would be as annoying as a version control system that locks files on check-out.
Sometimes you can tell that you don’t have enough whiteboards: they’re all full up, and people have to write ‘DNE’ (do not erase) on whiteboards that other people use. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if you have fewer whiteboards than people then you don’t have enough.