The Renaissance of Paper for Agile Software Development


we are aiming to bring that physically reinforced behavior and thus understanding of what we are doing back to the work place.

Physical size constraints are another reason to use low-tech tools, especially in an environment where people are very used to doing everything on the computer. Microsoft Word or Apple Pages limit the amount of text you can type into a virtual card only by how big your hard disk is. This is a virtually conceived size constraint. Index or note cards, on the other hand, limit you physically by the amount of information they are capable of displaying. This small but significant difference alters our behavior towards each medium by forcing us to be more compact and precise in expressing what we need to say. 

Disposal of unneeded items in a physical manner, by ripping the index card up and throwing it away, is psychologically more satisfying to our brain than simply dragging a document to the wastebasket. [iii] Completing the task of physically destroying the card makes us feel as if we have achieved something, completed a task. 

The How-To  
In his book Agile Software Development , Alistair Cockburn coined the term “Information Radiators .” [iv] Flip charts, posters or whiteboards can all be used as the base media.
Our whiteboards and large sticky notes are such Information Radiators, clearly visible in a prominent area in the office or team room (see Figure 1). Whiteboards will often hold a multitude or large sticky notes, usually under different headers scribbled onto the white board itself, while the large sticky notes hold a multitude of Index cards at various stages in the process.

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Figure 1: Sample Information Radiator on a Whiteboard

No matter how you choose to gather the information necessary for your team to start working, index cards are a good idea. Depending on your of granularity, they can either be used to reflect User Stories or the actual tasks needed to complete a User Story. Each team will find its own way of giving meaning to the specific pieces of stationery available on the Information Radiator.
There are numerous ways to exploit the versatility of the tools described. An index card, for example, can have many different meanings depending on how you use them. Here are some common applications, which might help you with developing your own:

· Color Coding - Index cards with specific colors have a special meaning.

· Positioning - Index cards which are turned sideways or upside down have a special meaning.

· Folding - Index cards which are folded in half horizontally or folded in half vertically have a special meaning.

· Shape - Round, oval, square, or heart-shaped super sticky notes might have different meanings.

· Grouping - Index cards, which are in close physical proximity carry a special meaning.

Each of these elements can be refined by adding other constraints, such as the combination of colors used on an index card. Make sure that you keep it simple. Someone walking past your Information Radiator should be able to understand what is going on without too much explanation.

The Benefits  
Being employed by Conchango and specializing in Scrum I am often engaged in large-scale change programs to introduce Scrum into an organization. Frequently, this means the company as a whole has not yet bought into this new framework and our work is considered to be a pilot. By using the process described above, employing tangible items, which are visible to everyone introducing change, makes it a little bit easier. It physically involves those committed to the change process and

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