Whenever the question comes up on which Agile tool to use use there always some people that answer "don't use an electronic tool because you will lose the big-visible-board advantage which better generate team conversation".

Is this always the case or are there any contexts where an electronic tool is a better choice? What are some of the pros and cons of each approach?


7 Answers 7


Advantages of physical whiteboards:

  1. Usually cheaper. Even free software requires a server to run on, data backed up and so on.
  2. Easier to use than software, particularly for less technical people or those involved temporarily.
  3. Easier to customize. Write on it, add a sticky note, add a heart sticker and so on. Many software packages are less flexible or require customization.
  4. More visible. A whiteboard in a common area is something people see everyday. It reinforces the tasks at hand, communicates process and can be impressive to those outside the team. Acts as a focus point - a team "campfire" where people meet and discuss team issues.
  5. A minor point but some people also like the tactile satisfaction of moving a sticky note from one column to the next or creativity in drawing pictures and symbols to show state or impediments rather than looking at columns of text.

Advantages of electronic tools (usually software):

  1. Easier to backup. "Backing up" a physical whiteboard or even keeping it in sync with software can be time consuming and frustrating.
  2. Keeps history and an audit log whereas a whiteboard only shows current tasks.
  3. Less fragile. Sticky notes on a physical whiteboard can fall off. Writing can be erased or smudged. Important details can get lost.
  4. Scales up beyond the physical surface size to more tasks and people, particularly with a projector.
  5. Automated integration with other tools, such as defect tracking and project management.
  6. Can enforce standardized process, such as phases or steps.
  7. Can produce metrics, graphs and reports automatically, such as burn down charts.
  8. Can be distributed across different teams in the same building, different buildings, different cities or even different countries.

I would recommend prototyping new processes with a whiteboard or similar but, as the team scales up or out, move to an electronic system. Losing your team's status to spilled coffee is hard to explain to management. That said, every team is different and, as others have said, there are few, if any, absolutes in software development.

  • 3
    +1 for physical whiteboard being a focus point. This important aspect is easy to overlook. Commented May 17, 2013 at 9:02
  • For backing up a whiteboard, use a digital camera. If you spill coffee on the wall, well, you deserve to explain that to management. (smile) Commented May 21, 2013 at 3:13
  • @MikeSherrill'Catcall' whiteboard photos are a poor backup. To make it effective, you need to write down its content in a structured way, which is time consuming. Commented May 21, 2013 at 12:47
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    A digital camera is a far better backup than a method that doesn't get done because it takes too long. Commented May 21, 2013 at 13:20
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    @MikeSherrill'Catcall' ... and that is both its greatest strength and weakness.
    – akton
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 2:12

The short answer is "no". The long answer starts with the realization that there are no absolutes in software development or most other fields: it all comes down to what you need and who will need it.

A physical whiteboard is an awfully versatile and useful thing. You can write on it, you can tape things to it, you can put index cards on it with magnets and shuffle them around, you can get up and look at it even when the internet/intranet is down. A whiteboard can contain very dense information - drawings, text. It has a bigger effective resolution than a computer screen so you can see more information at once.

Overall, It is a low tech and easy-to-use tool for a lot of typical development communication and tracking.

Of course, a whiteboard is low tech and therefore many things we're used to as developers are not achievable, or difficult. You cannot put hyperlinks to click on an index card on a whiteboard. You may miss changes that other members have made to the whiteboard when you weren't looking. If your team is not all in the same room then some team members will not be able to interact with and around the whiteboard. This is the most common argument against using whiteboards: they do not work very well with geographically distributed teams.

If you have a project manager then that project manager is likely to be interested in all sorts of metrics that could be easily derived from an electronic tool, not so from whiteboards.


Just as an addition to the other answers:

There's no need to make this an either-or situation -- you can have an electronic board and a physical one.

Our team uses an electronic board as the main working tool (we use Kanban) and as the authoritative source of information. The electronic board has all tasks, is updated as tasks are worked on etc.

In addition to that there is a physical board, which only has major stories. It is mainly meant to create visibility, especially to outsiders, such as PMs and stakeholders.

This does mean that changes to the electronic board need to be manually replicated on the physical board, but this is doable, as only major stories are tracked there, which usually take at leas a day.

We find this a good combination: The electronic board is useful for small stuff, for day-to-day work and for metrics, and allows comments, links to specs etc. The physical board gives a quick overview of project state and makes it easier to see the "big picture".

  • Nice. Any rule of thumb for which stories are "major" stories? Commented May 22, 2013 at 2:57
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    @KulawatTheEidos: We put up most stories that come from the business (unless they are trivial). We omit most team-driven tasks (internal stuff like refactorings and build tool changes), most bugs and the sub-tasks for a story. That way we only have about one paper card per 5-10 electronic tickets.
    – sleske
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 7:36

An electronic agile board is a necessity for distributed teams.

For those of us where the entire team is in one room, the physical board is easier and more versatile, but lacks integration into other (electronic) systems.

There are teams in between, where not everyone is in the same room, but nearby. In this case a combination of both solutions might also make sense.

In general it depends on your demands whether you prefer one over the other or even both at the same time. The key point is that there is no such thing as the one solution for everyone. Try to achieve visibility, a place to talk about things, exchange ideas, a place to document things (and other demands the project poses) with your team and find out what board option or combination fits the demands best - that is your solution.


I don't think an electronic board is a necessity for distributed teams. There are techniques like having pairing people up into buddys across locations which can help the teams feel more connected.

That is not to say that a virtual story board is never the correct solution. Having both is sometimes valid as well. As always, it depends...

If you do end up with both, tools like http://www.wallsync.net can help you keep them both in sync.

There are some advantages of physical boards that are hard (if not impossible) to replicate with a virtual one, http://www.wallsync.net/blog/physical-cards-are-better-1/


Use both.

But you need the physical board first. The electronic system should be for detailed docs and attachments you want to associate with a task. Not managing the process.

I would say the physical board is best for running the scrum, the electronic board is best for running the backlog


80% of my team is remote, so our normal communication is remote.

For this situation I find that an electronic board always seems better than a physical board for us. In fact I don't now how we would effectively do a physical board (I have done plenty of physical boards in the past when most people are also physically present). One camera that all of us watch I guess - though if we're watching on a screen, its already not really a physical board for us...

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