Online Scrum board: how certified Scrum Master applies RealtimeBoard to Agile practices

Scrum Board

Agile Board

As an online whiteboard with a powerful toolkit, RealtimeBoard helps to visualize thoughts for creative teams of all kinds: from marketers to designers, from developers to writers, from ux-ers to teachers, etc. Many of our clients mention that RealtimeBoard has already become an essential part of agile processes by making them simpler, yet more effective. As online Scrum board RealtimeBoard connects teams, Scrum Masters, plans, ideas and feedback together, supporting a continuous improvement cycle.

We asked a Scrum Master and Agile expert Ron Lichty to share his experience on training remote and distributed teams using RealtimeBoard.

Ron Lichty, Certified Scrum Master and Agile ExpertRon Lichty has been managing software development and product organizations for almost     30 years, focused in large part on untangling the knots in software development and transforming chaos to clarity. He has been training teams in Scrum for about eight years. The teams Ron is working with represent almost every domain, from healthcare to networking devices, from advertising to software development tools, from financial services to entertainment software, from consumer applications to enterprise software to IT.
His main focus as a consultant is making software development “hum” — and that finds him transitioning teams from waterfall and iterative methodologies to agile, coaching those who are already doing agile to be agile, and training managers of software teams.
If you want to learn more, check out these books written and co-authored by Ron Lichty:

Ron Lichty about previous challenges

When my client team is distributed, I deliver the presentation parts of training using tools like WebEx or Skype or Google Hangouts or the excellent-for-the-purpose Adobe Connect. And distributed teams rely on various scrum or agile tools like Jira, Leankit, Rally, VersionOne, Pivotal Tracker to groom their backlogs.

Agile training

Ron is updating a physical card wall for a collocated training

But a key part of the agile grooming relies on ordering by ROI, or “bang for the buck”, which in turn relies on relative sizing of stories to supply the “buck” — the “I” in “ROI” — the relative investment required. A long time ago I graduated from Planning Poker to a technique much more powerful — the Team Two-Pass Relative Sizing method that Steve Bockman devised.

The technique is a two-step process: first the entire team sorts the stories by size on a table or a wall. The result, with a story backlog of a hundred stories on a boardroom table, is a snake of cards in ascending order.

Agile Sizing

Here is what sizing looks like, when the team is in the room: 120 stories in a snake, smallest to largest

Then, after labeling the smallest story card a ‘1’, the team continues to label stories 1s until there is a card that is clearly no longer a 1 but twice that, so labels it a ‘2’; and so on.

Simple, fast, collaborative, powerful — provided the team is in person.

But team sizing is an obstacle for distributed teams. I had for years been looking for a tool that could support this simple card-sorting and card-labeling metaphor.

RealtimeBoard was the first tool I saw that really simplified in-the-room, collocated work. I haven’t found another alternative, to date.

Ron Lichty

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RealtimeBoard as online Scrum board

It was pretty easy to get started with RealtimeBoard. The only challenge was getting stickies to be created of roughly the same size.

Editorial note: we are preparing a lot of updates related to the stickies. Stay tuned!


To teach teams the sizing technique, I start with a warm-up exercise, asking students to size fruits. We start with 12 fruits. Agile stories typically have a “why” and the why for all 12 fruits is the same — “I want to eat some fruit” — it’s just the fruits that differ.

Online Scrum board

Fruit-sizing exercise: the set-up for each team

The exercise is for the team to put the 12 fruit cards in order: not based on how long to eat the fruit, but based on overhead — the combined effort of preparing the fruit and cleaning up after eating it (much as, in software, we need to combine development and testing efforts). Twelve cards are a small enough number they’re mostly practicing sorting them by effort, then numbering them with Fibonacci numbers.

Online Scrum board

Fruit-sizing exercise — five teams worked simultaneously, each on their own “sorting table”

The more complicated next exercise involves teams sizing, then grooming their backlog, then planning short, real-world sprints of activities like blowing up balloons, sorting cards and making paper airplanes — a “scrum-ified version of the XP Game”. Again, RealtimeBoard comes to the rescue as online Scrum board.

Online Scrum board

The more complicated next exercise — this is just one team’s work. Again, the gray area is the “sizing table”, used by the team to groom the left column (the backlog), from which then a sprint is planned (the sprint backlog)

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Then I organize workshops that include sizing of a team’s own real-world project of stories. It’s common for a team to have a hundred or more stories in its project backlog.

Comparing RealtimeBoard with a real conference table

When the team gets beyond a dozen cards and wants to insert a card in the middle of a row, the difference between a table and online Scrum board becomes obvious. Making physical space on a table is something we learned to do probably as children, while people have to learn the interface to leverage an online tool — to move a bunch of cards over at the same time.

Useful tip: read RealtimeBoard Knowledge Base to master selecting and moving multiple objects.

On a real life table, we usually snake the cards back and forth. But I discovered that, on a virtual table, rather than snaking cards, it is easier to deal with rows of cards, because you can arrange them from smallest to largest, left to right, then a next row, smallest to largest, left to right, then another.

Online Scrum board

Here’s what sizing looks like, when it is virtual: in rows, not a snake

In my experience, rows are easier in virtual space; snaking is easier in real space. But if the team developing RealtimeBoard delivers a feature that can automatically insert a card into a matrix of cards, it may make virtual sizing easier than real-space sizing!

Ron’s favorite RealtimeBoard features

Set up for real world classes is time consuming, involving hand-scribing dozens of stickies. RealtimeBoard is really handy in that I can set up online Scrum board for a class and save it off — and then reuse the training setup over and over.

Agile training using RealtimeBoard: more favorite features

In order to make the training more visual and more palpable for every participant, I use RealtimeBoard with remote classes to emulate what we do with physical walls and charts and tables with collocated ones. I want each student to have access to RealtimeBoard to get the full agile experience.

  • My personal favorite use of RealtimeBoard — because I think it’s been the stumbling block for distributed teams — is the agile sizing practice described above in which we replace cards on a table with stickies on a virtual whiteboard. This is a practice I expect teams to continue regularly after class completes, because it forms the backbone on which velocity and predictability are based.
  • I run trainings as agile projects using online Scrum Board, moving learning-module cards from a “Class Backlog” through “In Progress” to “Done”. This makes the class experiential — not just training about scrum, but training using scrum.
Online Scrum board

Training scrum board of learning modules, each notated with a relative story-point size, at the end of class, when we’ve accomplished most of the backlog (as is also true for software projects, we almost always start with more stories than we can complete)

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  • Similarly, I assign story points to learning-module cards and create a Burn-Up Chart as we go, using arbitrary one-hour “sprints” to yield a velocity that can be used to predict how many learning modules we will likely complete by the end of class.
Agile training

A Burn-Up Chart from a class, with arbitrary one-hour “sprints”, revealing velocity and enabling predictability (screen shot taken at the end of an 8-hour (8 “sprint”) class)

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  • RealtimeBoard also lets me put up a virtual flipchart. As a trainer, I can chart responses to questions like “What are you hoping for out of this class” or “What learning(s) are you taking away from this class?” — or have everyone fill answers to those questions in on cards and paste them up themselves.
Agile training

Scribing what a class is hoping to learn and a few learnings after a training

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  • RealtimeBoard turns out to be an awesome tool for Retrospectives. Bobbie Manson from Mingle Analytics pioneered using RealtimeBoard to run one of the best agile Retrospectives I have ever seen. I emulate her approach at the end of classes that are virtual.
Agile training

Retrospective by students, after a day’s agile training

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The impression after using online Scrum board

I have trained teams scattered across as many as 10 different locations — and remote teams on other continents — enabled by a combination of Skype & RealtimeBoard. The responsiveness by the team at RealtimeBoard and the ongoing development and direction of the tool bode well for agile teams and trainers alike.

I’m thrilled to find online Scrum board that not only lets me train teams in remote locations and scattered across geographies, but also enables those distributed teams to continue to use agile’s powerful, collaborative techniques and practices after I’m gone!

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