Scrum uses the sprint cadence as a common cycle to coordinate prioritization of the product backlog and implementation of the iteration backlog. The team manages its capacity by determining how much product backlog to take into the coming sprint, usually based on the story points delivered in prior sprints. This is an effective model for running an empirical process in complex contexts, as defined in Figure 1-3 in Chapter 1.
Scrum teams often visualize the tasks of the sprint backlog on the wall with a task board. Manual task boards use sticky notes, where rows group the tasks related to a particular PBI and columns show the progress of tasks from planned to in progress to done. As a task progresses, the task owner moves it along the board.
Several automated task boards currently visualize the sprint backlog of TFS, as shown in Figure 2-10. They provide a graphical way to interact with TFS work items and an instant visual indicator of sprint status. Automated task boards are especially useful for geographically distributed teams and scrums. You can hang large touch screens in meeting areas at multiple sites, and other participants can see the same images on their laptops. Because they all connect to the same TFS database, they are all current and visible.
Figure 2-10 Many TFS add-ins display the product and sprint backlogs as a task board. This add-in is called Urban Turtle and is available from
At Microsoft, we use these to coordinate Scrum teams across Redmond, Raleigh, Hyderabad, Shanghai, and many smaller sites. In Chapter 10, "Continuous Feedback," you can see how we have productized our internal taskboards in the next version of TFS.
The history of task boards is an interesting study in idea diffusion. For Agile teams, they were modeled after the so-called Kanban (Japanese for "signboards") that Taiichi Ohno of Toyota had pioneered for just-in-time manufacturing. Ohno created his own model after observing how American supermarkets stocked their shelves in the 1950s.10 Ohno observed that supermarket shelves were stocked not by store employees, but by distributors, and that the card at the back of the cans of soup, for example, was the signal to put more soup on the shelf. Ohno introduced this to the factory, where the card became the signal for the component supplier to bring a new bin of parts.
Surprisingly, only in the past few years have software teams discovered the value of the visual and tactile metaphor of the task board. And Toyota only recently looked to bring Agile methods into its software practices, based not on its manufacturing but on its observation again of Western work practices.11 So, we've seen an idea move from American supermarkets to Japanese factories to American software teams back to Japanese software teams, over a period of 50 years.