Let the Walls Talk! and Aloud…

Knowledge! The most valuable thing of today isn’t it? I always guide the Scrum teams for toward making everything visible in the simplest form without creating extra confusion regarding access to information.


In general, one of the questions of the Scrum teams about keeping the Sprint Backlogs and entering the remaining hours by sorting out the tasks is “which tool should we use”. My answer to this question is “do not use any tool”. The management tools are generally seen as a need in the institutions which have brought their Corporate Agile transformations to a certain degree. Although this is correct for looking in to the portfolio or corporation’s release status, and even though it provides various reporting means without much effort, I always defend that using of tool must be supported with walls. Yes walls!! That areas, generally white, indicating the zone which we call as the own area of the Scrum team. Some walls function as a projection screen in order to overview the Product Backlog, some are the Kaizen Wall; it tells you what the Team has decided to do for becoming better. The most important walls of ours are the walls on which the Task Boards are located and which disseminate information in streams. You will certainly see somewhere the Burndown Chart on a flipchart paper.


My fundamental criterion is empathy. I become a CEO and I step on the site to gain opinion about developing this product or project that I place strategic importance on. The only thing I should do to receive the answer to my most basic question “What condition are we in?” is to go to the “gemba”. Gemba is the “real place” in the Lean production philosophy of the Japans. That is the place of production, in other words the “incident scene” where the value is created.

When I get there, asking questions to a Scrum team gives the message “I am the CEO, I am here and asking questions” to a self-organized team, and I don’t want the teams to feel an effect close to the “command and control” culture. I have to strive to get this information, and the walls tell it in general, if I am visiting a Scrum team whose values are accurately understood. The walls speak and tell me. A Sprint Goal on the left wall says: “The team tries to reach this goal in this Sprint”. And I look very next to it, which items the team has taken from the Product Backlog for this. After looking over shortly in lists, the Task Boards very next to it tells the situation with its headings. All the activities required to complete this Product Backlog items in accordance with the “DONE” criteria are included either in the pending activities on the “To Do” board, or in the ongoing activities on the “In Progress” board, or in the completed activities on the “Completed” board.

I rapidly turn my head to a side, times and activities are the team’s business! So what is the situation? Sprint Burndown Chart gives this information to me at a single glance. The size of the work assumed by this Sprint is estimated to a certain number as time and it is tried to reach zero. If I see a melting curve below this virtual line it means “team in good condition”, if above the line then “there are some problems”. Naturally in such a case I take a look at the “Impediment” which means “Obstacles” board at once, in order to get why this team encounters problems. Of course I think about what I can do, but if a good Scrum Master had not been able to create an environment for the team to solve the problem and if he/she himself/herself had not been able to solve it, he/she would have already brought these matters to me.

My last glance would be at the Release Burndown Chart and the Velocity data of the team. When the team would be able to release which feature if it continues at this sustainable pace, or, if I want to look at except for one feature, when the team would be able to complete the determined current Product Backlog can be seen on the approximate completion time of a line.

I call gemba as “memba” in Turkish which means source, the source of value. Looking at JIRA or TFS or as a pellet of simple Excel Sheets is looking at the report. When you step on the site, in order to reach the warmth of the production, the walls speak to me without any need for any question. You must know the saying “if only the walls had tongue and been able speak”! If the walls in question are the walls of the Scrum teams, they tell, they should tell, everything to you as the information radiators.

Tolga Kombak, CSM, PSM I, PSPO I, Agile Coach & Trainer, ACM

Tolga is a Scrum trainer, Agile coach and speaker with 14 years of hands-on software development experience in the finance sector, specializing in payment systems. Currently training, coaching and consulting Agile teams in various companies. Along with team coaching Tolga is also consulting in the Agile transformation of companies, from the organizational restructuring to building internal coaching and Agile excellency centers.

Tolga Kombak

Tolga Kombak


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