One question being asked frequently

When I participated some discussion within Agile communities, one question has often been asked:

“Which is best tool for Agile team? Physical board or JIRA or Rally or …”

Although every time we would like to answer it from Agile value and principle perspective, but when it has been asked so frequently, I start to ask WHY?

The first possible reason based on my experience, is that the organization tries to set up standard Agile process include tools. Most of cases, in those organizations, the Agile transformation is top-down driven by senior leadership team. They like to have a consistent view of the performance. So to have a standard tool seems easier to achieve it. It is an organizational needs of Alignment.

The second possible reason might be because the team players are not co-located. And in order to help team to be able to have good collaboration across different location, set up a tool to be available easily for everyone from different place sounds a great idea.

The third possible reason is that the team just start Agile journey and they don’t know how to start it properly. So they are thinking to have a great tool will help them to set it up.

All of these may have good intentions but also missed some key points.

In the first case, in order to achieve that alignment, teams’ autonomy has been sacrificed. Team has no authority to select proper tools by themselves but they are expected to use them on daily base to deliver great results. It looks like a chef can’t select his best tools to cook the best dishes. Sounds not reasonable anymore, right? So how to balance alignment and autonomy? The organization leadership team can explicitly explain to the team what are expected from business operation perspective instead of giving a one-option solution. And give the authority to the team to decide which tool can match the needs for both sides. For example, leadership team like to have visibility of the quality and they may tell what kinds of measurements are expected, and allowed teams to decide whatever the tools they like to use but match this criteria.

The second case is also very common. Team players are distributed and need something to help them to collaborate. So for that, I would suggest to start from a very simple and free tool, e.g., google sheets what is very good to collaboration and easy to change the setup. The key thing is the same as I mentioned above, to let the team to decide which tool to use. I saw a team had started to use Trello and they really like it because of its simplicity. But the organisation forced the team to change to JIRA. And also there were many access limitations that team had to go through a long process to set it up. And it caused unnecessary wastes and demotivated team’s collaboration instead of enable it.

The third reason is also quite usual for a new team. It is because of some misunderstanding about Agile. A common one is treat Agile as just another process with some defined activities or meetings. So set up a tool to force the process to be followed sounds a good idea. This needs to be improved through coaching and education to help the team to understand Agile correctly. To assist that learning process, I found it is always really good to start from using physical board rather than any electronic tools what will drive the team to focus on collaboration rather than how to use a tool. When team start to understand it, then they may decide to choose a proper tool for themselves.

Last thing I like to emphasize is, although almost all of the Agile practitioners prefer to use non-tech tools, like physical board and post-it and pens, the team’s capability is really depends on how team use the tool not what the tool has been used. I saw one team used physical board but the one person dominated the whole idea about how to set it up. No one else would like to touch the board. I also saw one team was using JIRA and had very good collaboration.

So, if I can ask questions, I would like to ask

  • How does the team select the tool?
  • How is that tool used on daily base?