Post-it Note Blues

Tasks on our Scrum board

Tasks on our Scrum board

As part of our sprint planning, we break down our user stories into discrete tasks that take no more than a day to complete and put each of those tasks onto a Post-it® note.  We track the stories and tasks on a board so that the entire team can see what needs to get done and who is working on what. Each of the user stories is written on a larger Post-it® that is the same color as the tasks for that story. By color-coding the stories, it is easy to watch the progression of tasks across the board until the entire story is complete.

It may seem entirely frivolous, but having the tasks for each story match the parent story card, and having different colors for each story is a serious boon for organization. I became such a stickler for correct color-coding at Genius that I am now referred to as the Vice President of Fonts and Colors.

There are some difficulties in our approach. While 3M produces four or five different shades of blue, having similar colors makes the board confusing, so we only use the most dissimilar colors of Post-it® notes. Unfortunately, the sticky notes are only available in combination packs which invariably contain colors that are too similar for our use. After some searching, we tracked down the 3M promotional markets group to inquire about purchasing just the colors of Post-it notes that we use. Getting a response from 3M required dropping my title as the Vice President of Fonts & Colors, and they eventually pointed us to a local printing shop who could order notes on our behalf. Ryan sent samples of the colors we use to the shop and we awaited a response.

After a few days, we heard back, but the news was not what we expected. We were surprised to hear that not all of the colors of Post-it® notes we use were available in bulk—the notes that you can get at the local office supply store are produced in different plants from those that make Post-it®s for bulk orders. A bummer, but not too bad because the minimum order is 500 pads per color. At 50 notes per pad, that is 25,000 notes at a cost of $1,000. Considering we want to use at least 6 colors, that’s a minimum $6,000 order containing 150,000 stickies. While we’re big users of the notes, that’s a bit more than we need.

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  • Kelly

    So what did you do about the post-its?! Inquiring minds want to know!

    You mention you have a lot of extras…maybe we can take those off your hands. :)

    • Drew Stephens

      Until we grow to be a Huge Scrum House, we’re sticking to buying Post-its at the office supply store. The most frustrating part is that the multi-packs they sell come in odd assortments of colors, some of which we don’t currently use—for economic efficiency, we’re going to move our usage of notes to match what is available in the packs.

  • Urs Enzler

    I hope that it’s not windy in your office! That is the reason we use a magnetic board, paper cards and magnets instead of post-its :-)

    Our colouring code is also quite different:
    – stories = white
    – tasks = green
    – unplanned tasks = blue
    – identified defects = red

    But most important: a real board is in any form superior to electronical boards.


    • Drew Stephens

      Your system is definitely a good option—rather than color stories by color, I presume you just keep stories aligned in lanes along the board. That certainly makes stocking Post-its a lot easier! The only downside I see is that we often end up referring to stories by their color, which are all quite interesting; to name a few:
      – Fuchsia Flash
      – Fire Salmon
      – Tangerine Mist

      Having separate notes for unplanned tasks & defects is also important, to make them stand out from the normal stories on the board.

      As for electronic boards, I agree because I quite like our physical board, but our Network Operations team has made good use of Scrumy, which works great, especially because a few of the team members are not at our main location. They do daily stand-ups using Skype on a computer hooked up to a big-screen TV.

  • Roy Peter

    Well thats a good and funny way to track your work.
    Roy Peter – Marketing