Task & story boards

Task & story boards2017-10-24T12:12:42+00:00

Story Board vs Task Board

Whichever you prefer, you only need one – a Story Board or a Task Board.

Which you choose depends solely on how your team prefer to manage their work. The main difference between them is one of granularity.

  • Stories are the basic units of Agile development, so they are logical units for tracking activity & progress.
  • But sometimes it is useful to track individual tasks:
    • To achieve greater visibility by drilling down farther.
    • To track novel, risky or complex situations.
    • To track non-story tasks.

Whichever you use, Story Boards & Task Boards have a lot in common.

  • Both are powerful ‘information radiators’.
    • Centrally positioned.
    • Constantly on view.
    • Highly visible.
    • Completely up-to-date.
  • They exhibit the team’s activity & progress.
    • At a level of detail appropriate to the team & the work in hand.
  • They are extremely easy to set up, populate & manage.
    • Negligible bureaucratic overhead.
    • Maximum value-to-effort ratio.
  • They encourage constant reflection & innovation by the team, by visitors & even by passing strangers.
  • They encourage a constant sense of engagement, commitment & even adventure.

What is a Story Board?

Story BoardA Story Board is a simple map of the status and progress of the team’s work.

The most basic Story Board has just 4 columns, as shown here. Each column contains just those stories that have reached a particular stage of development.

Extended formats

There are circumstances when extra columns can be helpful.

This is usually because:

  • The team needs to communicate with a wider audience.
    • PMO, business owners, regulators, etc.
  • The team is relying on an Extended team.
    • For reviews, expert input, authorisations, etc.

Commonly used additional columns include:

Story status:
‘Pending’Out for comments & approval, or otherwise waiting for someone outside the team.
‘Ready for test’Waiting for a (non-team) tester to start testing.
‘In UAT/OAT’Waiting for formal acceptance by an external group.
‘In approval’Waiting for approval by the business, SME, regulator, etc.
‘Accepted’All external approvals received.
‘Deployed’In use by users.
Story progress:
‘Due today’Scheduled for completion before the next Daily Stand-Up Meeting.

  • Priority item for developer & user.
‘Late’.Will not be completed as scheduled (or already late).

  • Priority item for developer, user & Iteration Lead.
  • May need active support by others.

You can also:

  • Group stories into swimlanes:
    • E.g., 1 swimlane per team member, per epic, etc.
  • Tag individual stories with additional notes:
    • E.g., colour-coded for who the item is assigned to, test status, Showcase status, deployed stories, etc.
  • Add columns to track related issues:
    • Effort expended vs time remaining.
    • Whether tests are ready for execution.
    • Etc.
  • Add a general ‘Notes’ column.
    • For comment, suggestions, issues, dependencies, etc.

But be careful not to add complexity where it is not needed. Always ask, exactly what purpose does each additional column really serve?

  • Does it speed up development?
  • Does it make the team more responsive? Flexible? Creative?
  • Does it help you to manage an obstacle or problem?

If the answer is, No, then cut it out!

What is a Task Board?

Task Board - ExtendedA Task Board is similar to a Story Board, but it tracks individual tasks, & it’s sub-divided by story.

The tasks for a single story might include:

  • Consult an SME.
  • Collect key data.
  • Map interfaces.
  • Build a prototype.
  • Test database connections.
  • Walk regulator through finished product.
  • Etc.

When should you use a Task Board?

You can track any task, but as the above examples suggest, it is often useful to track tasks that:

  • Involve Extended Team & external stakeholders.
  • Reduce risk & uncertainty.

Task tracking can also be helpful in other circumstances:

  • It can help you to track story implementation in detail.
    • Especially useful in risky situations.
    • Or where you have complexly interrelated stories.
  • It can help you to track ‘non-story’ activities.
    • Features shared across multiple tasks.
    • Iteration 0 tasks.
      • E.g., preparing environments.
    • Fixing defects:
      • From previous iterations.
      • Detected during the current iteration, but not caused by current stories.
    • Unavoidable administrative & stakeholder management activity.

Extended formats

Task Board - ExtendedIf you have a lot of ‘non-story’ tasks, your Task Board may need pseudo-stories specifically to track them.

  • ‘Admin’ for administrative tasks.
  • ‘Bugs’, with each defect as a task within that story.
  • ‘Technical’, to track background technical tasks:
    • Maintenance.
    • Support.
    • Etc.

You can also reuse many of the Story Board extensions.

Managing boards

Both Story and Task Boards are extremely simple to operate.

  • Changes to a task or story’s status are recorded simply by moving its card between columns.
  • The left-to-right structure also provides a direct indicator of progress.
    • So it creates a strong visual impression of progress.
    • And a basic level of reporting is built into the board’s physical layout.
  • Update the board at least daily, at your Daily Stand-Up meeting.
    • Or more often, as and when status changes.
  • Keep the board aligned with your other ‘information radiators’:
    • Burn Chart.
    • Improvement Board.
    • Velocity Chart.
    • Etc,

[tabby title=”Tools”]

Board & story tools

Story cards

Story CardAgile stories are very simple, so they are easily managed with just a Story Board. An extremely basic story format – a ‘story card’ – is perfectly effective in most circumstances.

Note that:

  • If you want to include Acceptance Criteria or other details, you may need another tool.
  • You can also tag & label cards to show other information.
    • E.g., to show story allocations, the responsible tester, user, etc.


Board tools

Story & Task Boards can be created with the simplest of tools.

  • A whiteboard, sticky notes & pens.
  • A pinboard & cards.
  • Etc.

More complex tools are usually needed only where the team has to manage more than just its own work. For example:

  • Coordination of teams spread across multiple locations.
  • Rapid communication with remote stakeholders.
    • Executives, business process owners, SMEs, vendors, customers, etc.
  • External reporting.
    • To a PMO.
    • To multiple stakeholders (apart for the Product Owner).
  • Cross-team integration.
    • E.g., for programme-level tracking.
  • Complex metrics & analysis.
    • Historic data, trends, productivity, financials, etc.

There are costs as well as benefits to using more complex technologies.

  • It’s harder for the team to gather round a screen than a full-size board.
  • Relying on computer screens can isolate team members.
    • The opposite of Agile!
  • The interaction around a large display board is much richer & more open.
  • Electronic tools tend to conceal as well as reveal.
    • They facilitate complex analysis & long-distance communications.
    • But they do not put the key information permanently on show.
      • On a large, public board.
      • Without any need for anyone to understand how to access the data.
    • Passers-by & external stakeholders are not presented with the status & progress of work directly & automatically.

So electronic tools are best used to complement, not replace, simple solutions.

Issues & risks

Here are few tips for making your Story & Task Boards more effective.

  1. Story & Task Boards should be as visible as possible.
    • They create a sense of urgency.
    • They keep the team realistic.
    • They communicate the status of work to outsiders quickly & simply.
  2. A Task or Story Board is more useful when combined with a Burn Chart.
    • The Task or Story Board records what has actually been done in more detail than a Burn Chart.
      • It identifies individual stories and tasks.
      • It allows the team to track dependencies, identify opportunities, etc.
    • But the Burn Chart combines this with the available effort, and so compares actual activity with planned activity.
      • I.e., what you have done, compared with what you should have done.
    • The team are kept aware of what the Task/Story Board means.
      • What specifically is being done.
      • What specifically is the issue, when opportunities or problems arise.
    • So it is useful to place you Task/Story Board and Burn Chart side-by-side.
  3. Completing tasks, unlike completing stories, does not mean you’ve delivered any real value yet.
    • So all the tasks on your Task Board should ‘roll up’ to an actual story.
  4. Keep all your information radiators aligned.
    • Burn Chart.
    • Improvement Board.
    • Velocity Chart.
    • Etc,

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