ART OF SCRUM: Wallpaper with Whiteboards

Posted: December 4, 2007 in Art of Scrum
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Going through two years of graduate work (and still paying for it) for a MS in Educational Technology was an eye-opening experience. It seems that no matter how old you are, kindergarten tactics for teaching still works wonders. I still marvel at my hard-earned teacher salary going towards instruction content such as “Effective Use of a White Board”, “Zen and the Art of the Overhead Projector”, and the much-feared “Copyright Law and Properly Setting Your VCR to Record a Show”. All of this post-graduate work can be summed up in two sentences:

  1. Write legibly, and do not obscure your own writing; i.e., write on the board / projector and then get out of the way
  2. Read the instructions and practice at home

Back in 1997, these were high-tech gadgets to use in the classroom. 10 years later, and this stuff seems Stone Age. But I still love the whiteboard because it allows people to add a visual component to an oral discussion. Instruction theory describes a theory of mental retention of content by how many senses are involved with learning it:

  • Hear it: 10% — audio
  • Hear it and see it: 25% — audio, visual
  • Hear it, see it, and write it down: 45% — audio, visual, kinetic
  • Hear it, see it, repeat it verbally, and write it down: 65% — audio, visual, kinetic, and more kinetic

In this case, more interaction leads to better retention of the data. Essentially, more involvement allows the brain to interact with the subject matter on a variety of levels, firing multiple synapses in different areas of the neocortex to facilitate full comprehension. I probably need to draw a diagram and make you repeat after me to get that concept to stick…

Anyhow, I was pleased to see that the new AI East whiteboard is being used frequently. I know that the Wall ‘O Board at AI West is used quite a bit as well. The greatest trick to effectively using whiteboards, however, involves a step that is not normally taken — extracting the needed information off of the board at the end of the session so that the surface is not marred by either ghosting or by questioning if you can erase what is currently on the board. Someone has to be responsible enough to write down what is needed to be saved and insure that this is filed in the appropriate manner — hopefully, not paper in a filing cabinet.

Fret not; the act of copying down what is on the whiteboard is a productive activity. This is an opportunity to grab only the real fruit of the labor, organize it again in a more readable or understandable fashion, all the while being polite enough to allow for the next whiteboard user to have a clear surface. This was one of the complaints about using the Conference Room for the Scrum Task Board; nobody else dared to touch it in fear of disturbing the controlled chaos of different colored sticky notes progressing across the snowy landscape of the tileboard, so the expanse of writable surface was effectively lost for other uses.

Joel on Software is a big fan of Hallway Usability Testing; I believe that whiteboards facilitate this sort of information transfer. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a handy whiteboard is a low-tech interactive space for gnoshing out problems and quickly suggesting alternate approaches because you can point to established agreed-upon concepts, draw arrows, gesticulate at thaumaturgic symbols, spit out theoretical code samples, and otherwise use more than one sense to get a sense of what you are talking about.

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