Great Boards Have Nothing To Do With The Board

I am working with a team that has a great VMB. It's the first thing people say when they walk past and see a stand-up in progress - "what a fantastic VMB" they say. And it is indeed fantastic. It represents the team's work really well. It's clear and easy to understand. It shows obstacles and what the team is doing to overcome them. It really assists the team in their stand-ups. It facilitates discussions between the team and its stakeholders.

The next question people invariably ask is -"can we set up our board like that?" Of course they can. The VMB design isn't proprietary to the team. Anyone can use it. So they do. Copies of this fantastic board are springing up everywhere, but pretty soon they come back and say "there's something wrong. Our stand-ups don't flow as well as yours and the board just doesn't work. Have we copied something wrong?" Yes they have. They have copied the wrong thing entirely. The thing they haven't realized is that my team's fantastic board, and the fantastic stand-ups and discussions it facilitates, has nothing at all to do with the layout of the board, and everything to do with the performance of the team.

The board is a vital part of the team's agile routine. It should represent the team's work and facilitate discussions but the best board in the world won't help if the team itself isn't performing. A board can't facilitate discussions if the team isn't comfortable having those discussions. It can't represent the team's work if the team isn't managing its work properly.

This particular team is performing really well. They are deeply engaged. They are collaborating well. They are managing their work well. They are reflecting on and improving their process every day. The fact that their board is so great isn't the cause of their high performance, it is a reflection of it.

A great team will have a great board. They will continually adjust their board to make it better and better. The people who come and ask if they can use the design don't realise that the board they see today isn't the same board that was there a couple of days ago, and it won't be the same board in a week's time. The team will adjust it to make it work even better.

You can't create a high performing team by copying the board from a high performing team. The performance has nothing to do with the board layout. You need to look deeper and start copying the team behaviors that allow it to become high performing. Openness. Courage. Collaboration. Honesty. Engagement. Get those right and the team will perform. As a side effect they will also develop a great board. Get those wrong and the best board in the world won't help.