Sticky notes on the wall – but why?

For many people, the first encounter with an agile team is an almost surreal experience: serious, educated people standing in front of a wall covered in colourful sticky notes, gesticulating wildly and arguing about something with faces aglow. What are these strange rituals, what is this all about? I very often get the question: could it not all be done using modern technology instead of paper scraps? After all, we are in the twenty-first century and we are developing with the latest technologies, are we not?

Színes post-it cetlik a falon - agilis csapatok gyakran használják.

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

The value pair in the subtitle may be familiar to those familiar with the main document of agility, the so-called Agile Manifesto, for example in the context of an agile training.  Similarly, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation. ” and “Simplicity – the art of maximising the amount of work not done – is essential.” sentences from the 12 principles of agility might ring a bell, just as  transparency as a main pillar of agility. All of these colourful sticky notes are related to the above ideas. But how? Let’s find out!

Practical training and psychology

This method may seem childish at first sight, but there are strong practical and psychological arguments behind it.  Teamwork, a team pulling together as one body and soul towards a single goal known to all, is the key to agility. Without it , we cannot even talk about being agile. And a wall full of sticky notes is the shared mind, the central unit, the short-term memory of the team. It is where the team’s shared understanding, shared thoughts, shared will is stored and radiated at every moment. Since its task is to reflect the team’s collective consciousness, it must pick up the rhythm of the team’s thinking. Putting up a new note is a moment’s work, moving it to, say, another category is even quicker. Electronic tools are simply too slow for this, both in terms of recording and extracting data.

Data in the online space

What do I mean by it being too slow? The above task can be very cumbersome to  perform electronically. It’s not the tools themselves that are slow, it’s the access to the information that takes too much time. It’s too far away (you have to open it, navigate to the data), too difficult to administer, the tools are too inflexible, usually contain a lot of unnecessary details, and useful information gets lost in the sea of data. Moreover, we are communicating with computers and not directly with people.

Electronic tools may still be needed, of course, but if all this information were to be recorded exclusively in this form, it would actually block the team’s collective thinking because of its clumsiness and lack of human-centeredness. It would damage the possibility of creating a shared understanding of the team’s collective knowledge, ability and efficiency surpassing the sum of individual skills. It would be impossible or much more difficult to develop the exhilarating experience of co-creation in a team, which is the real power of agility and is crucial in ensuring a dramatic increase in efficiency.

How do you do it?

Do you know how many things can be stored on the wall with a few notes? Without being exhaustive, here are some of the agile practices we use in our trainings, for which, or to display the results of which, you need nothing more than a large surface, markers and/or a handful of sticky notes:

– Business model canvas
– Cultural tensions canvas
– Decision grid
– Delegation board
– Empathy map
– Goal oriented product roadmap
– Happiness door
– Impact map
– Kanban board
– Kano analysis
– Magic estimation (“Big Wall”)
– Problem mapping based on Cynefin domains
– Program and team PI objectives
– Program board
– Reframe the loss canvas
– Remote culture canvas
– Hundreds of retrospective techniques
– Roam board
– Skill matrix
– Scrum board
– Stakeholder map, power-interest grid
– Swarming board
– Swot analysis
– Team mood chart
– Team norms
– User story maps
– Value proposition canvas
– Value stream map

Think about it: do you use a physical (real-life) board in addition to software tools? What do you store there and what do you store electronically? What software tool do you use (and why Jira)? How many elements are stored there? Is it a manageable amount? Do you see the big picture? Have you ever wanted to change the structure or the process of how information is stored, but didn’t have the knowledge, rights or permission to do it? How often do you hear “I don’t know, look it up in Jira” and “It would be much better to do it that way, but Jira doesn’t support it”?

If you have any questions about what should be stored electronically and what should be stored on boards or on the wall, contact us!


Written by: Gábor Erényi, Sprint Consulting