I was recently asked what tools you need for Scrum. It's a common enough question and in the software industry we have a tendency to look for the latest and greatest tools to help us do our jobs better.

In the Agile movement it's particularly rife, after all one of the tenets of agile is the removal of impediments from your team and automation is one of the main tools in achieving this.

Scrum, though, is a little different. Scrum is not software engineering, it's a project management methodology. Automation and tools are definitely needed to assist the engineering practices of your team; to help them concentrate more on the problem they're trying to solve and less on the repetitive elements of building code.

When it comes to process however there is a nasty side effect in using software tools to assist & automate the management effort. Tools bring rigidity to the process and impede the "inspect & adapt" thinking required in an agile project. Why, because all software has rules, and regardless of how flexible they may be, people's thinking will subconsciously align to the rules present in the software and assume that they can't be changed.

A further issue with software tools for management is that software isn't visible. It's not easily accessed by everyone, and it requires directed thinking to open up the software and check on the status of the project. What's needed is a set of tools that are light touch and extremely visible to all team members. People are visual beings, and highly visible status information is something that people will not ignore.

As a result project management, and Scrum in particular is best served not by software but by a simple set of tools.

So here are the 4 invaluable tools you need for Scrum:

1. The Wall - it's where you'll stick your sticky notes and easel pad sheets. Make sure the wall is a big visible wall. No wall space? Then use a window - just make sure the curtains/blinds are open!

2. Sticky Notes - For recording the tasks in the sprint/iteration. Also for recording the product backlog items. Use multiple colours for visually differentiating task types or backlog items (e.g. functional vs non-functional, business layer vs UI, etc).

3. Paper for Charts - Keep your burndown charts visible and easy to see. The bigger the chart is (in size) the easier it is to see and the harder it is to ignore.

4. A Marker Pen - For writing on your sticky notes and drawing your charts! A marker is much more visible than ball point pen from a distance. Feel free to use different colours.

That's it. It might seem incredibly lo-tech yet it's very easy to use and it's all you actually need.

If you need to record the progress of your sprints and backlogs for posterity or to email updates to remote stakeholders then you might need a few more tools in the kit:

  • A digital camera - just take photos of your wall and save/email the images.
  • Excel - Record your sprint backlog in an excel workbook and update it daily. I have one you can download if you want to use it as a starting point.

Finally, if you are new to Scrum you may feel an overwhelming urge to look for a specialized scrum management tool to help guide and manage the process while you comfortable with it. I would strongly advise against doing so. Run the process manually and don't use any software tools until you have bedded down Scrum within your team (at least 18 months). And even then, I would suggest that the less management software you have, the more flexible and adaptable you and your team will be when the winds of change come blowing through.