The Agile Board: A Guide to Scrum Board, Kanban Board, and Other Task Board Basics

The Agile Board: A Guide to Scrum Board, Kanban Board, and Other Task Board Basics

If you’re new to Agile, one of the first things to understand is the role of the task board in Agile approaches. Creating and maintaining an effective task board is key to successful Agile product development. And whether you use a physical task board, a virtual task board template, or task board software, the basics are the same.

With Whiteboards, your team can manage projects right on the canvas of your online whiteboard. Customize our Kanban Board template to create a task board that fits your team’s needs (yes, this template can be a Scrum board, too!).

Kanban Board template on
Kanban Board template on

If your team chooses Jira for project management, the Whiteboards app acts like an extension of your Jira task board. Hold team meetings using Whiteboards templates and manage your Jira tasks and other issues on the whiteboard. Create, import, and update Jira issues without leaving Whiteboards’ virtual canvas. The Whiteboards app syncs deeply with Jira, so all updates appear instantly in both programs.

Try Whiteboards Pro for free to start configuring your team’s task board today. Read on to learn Agile board basics and find helpful links to more task board management resources. 

What is a task board? 

A task board is a visual tool for tracking work or personal tasks from scheduling to completion. A physical task board could be a whiteboard, bulletin board, or the side of your refrigerator. Tasks might be written on sticky notes, or on index cards held in place with thumbtacks or magnets. 

One virtual task board example is Whiteboards’ Personal To-Do List template. Its classic task board format splits your to-do list into three columns. From left to right, the columns contain unstarted tasks, tasks in progress, and finished tasks. 

Personal To-Do List template on
Personal To-Do List template on

The template also includes a common task board feature called swimlanes. Swimlanes are horizontal rows that intersect the board’s columns to categorize tasks further — in this case, by priority level. With three columns and three swimlanes, your tasks are divided into nine helpful sections for better visual organization.

The task board format has several advantages over a standard to-do list. A task board

  • breaks down a long to-do list into manageable pieces
  • keeps you focused on completing the most urgent and important tasks first
  • holds your upcoming tasks so you can be prepared but not distracted by them
  • provides a satisfying record of work accomplished (versus crossing things off a list)
  • shows your overall progress at a glance so you don’t lose sight of the bigger picture

A task board is a simple but powerful tool to manage any to-do list in a more orderly and efficient manner.

Agile task board basics

What is a task board in Agile?

An Agile board, or project board, is the central organizing tool of Agile project management. In Agile approaches, the task board looks like the Personal To-Do List template above, just expanded and adapted for multiple users. Agile task boards are often the focal point during Scrum meetings and standups.

Teams use task boards in Agile to track the real-time work status of one or more ongoing projects. The project’s component tasks are placed on individual cards or sticky notes. Tasks are prioritized and placed in the left column to begin their journey across the board. 

What are the parts of an Agile task board?

  • Columns: The simplest task board is split into three columns, with some teams choosing to add more. For instance, instead of “In Progress” there might be two columns: “Development” and “Testing.” Some teams add a “Blockers” column for urgent tasks being held up by other uncompleted work.
  • Swimlanes: These optional horizontal rows are a powerful way to refine your task board. Priority-themed swimlanes, as in the task board example above, are a popular option. For a multi-project board, you might divide your swimlanes by project name. Or, assign swimlanes to individual team members to maintain a quick view of workload distribution.
  • Cards: Individual tasks are written on cards, which are moved from column to column as work progresses. Each card contains a short description of one work item to be done. . Other card information might include the task assignee, project name, and team or teams in charge of completing the task. On a virtual task board, cards take the form of virtual sticky notes, which start out blank. In Jira, task cards come pre-loaded with the most common information fields, and the user fills these in when creating a task. 

What are the types of Agile task boards?

Agile teams use one of three types of task boards:

1. Physical task board

Physical boards can work well for co-located teams sharing an office. All you need to create a task board is a large whiteboard or some unused wall space. Draw lines or use strips of tape to establish columns. Add individual work items to sticky notes to create task cards. Organize your board visually by color-coding your sticky notes or adding horizontal dividers to create swimlanes. 

2. Digital task board template

Remote and distributed teams generally require a digital task board to manage their projects. With a virtual agile board, you can conduct an online Scrum meeting in real time. Plus, everyone in the organization can view it whenever they need it. Whiteboards’ Kanban Board template is one virtual task board example. Add, expand, and rename the columns to fit your team’s work process. Type tasks on customizable sticky notes. Use different colors or shapes to show the assignee, department, type of task, priority level, or any indicator that’s useful to your team.

Kanban Board template on
Kanban Board template on

3. Task board management software

Agile project management software typically includes some kind of digital task board. Software like Jira offers a more integrated and powerful approach to online task boards. Tasks are assigned, updated, and completed. They can have dependencies that trigger other tasks or allow for the completion of larger sets of tasks. Automation features like filters and labels provide users with convenient ways to group, view, and manage tasks.

Kanban Board in Jira
Kanban Board in Jira

Which digital task board is best for you? To keep it simple in the early stages, manage your tasks right on a customized Whiteboards template. If you go on to adopt Jira, you’ll have the perfect tool to accompany your transition. Whiteboards’ unique two-way Jira integration lets your team work directly with Jira issues during your whiteboard meetings. Manage Jira task cards on the whiteboard, and all your work syncs automatically in Jira.

Project Management with Agile task boards

With the basics down, the next step is understanding how task boards fit into the bigger picture. 

Who uses Agile boards?

A task board can help any team or department manage its work more effectively. In particular, task boards are a staple for Agile development teams. Development teams are typically juggling a large number of individual features, bugs, and evolving project requirements. Product development can suffer from avoidable roadblocks, missed deadlines, and general team disorganization without a well-managed task board.

Who is on an Agile development team? 

A traditional development team includes programmers, designers, software architects, engineers, and other technical experts. These team members coordinate their individual functions to produce the finished product. 

A typical Agile development team is more broadly cross-functional. For instance, the team might also include a business analyst, marketing team lead, subject matter expert, or other project stakeholders. These team members support, inform, and coordinate their own work closely with the product developers. They attend some or all development team meetings and are looped into the development team task board.

How do companies coordinate Agile boards?

Given these complexities you might wonder, who should be using what task board? Task boards are infinitely flexible and scalable, which can be confusing when you’re getting started. 

Some businesses manage one large-scale task board for the entire company. Others leave teams and departments to manage their own boards – or decide if they will use them at all. Development and operations might share a task board. The marketing team could maintain a joint board with the development team. Or maybe the development team includes one marketing rep who monitors the development task board to coordinate the two teams’ efforts.

In short, there’s no right or wrong way to organize Agile boards. Design your task boards to integrate functions in a way that works best for your business. A good rule of thumb is to start simple and keep everyone on the same page as you expand. Collaborate with your team to refine your board as you discover what works and what doesn’t. The best task board is whichever one keeps your team happy and productive!

How do I manage an Agile task board?

Creating a task board is one thing, but what about day-to-day management? The simple answer is that Agile project management is a creative process, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

To begin to visualize your options, consider the two main task board formats: Scrum boards and Kanbans. Most Agile teams use a Scrum or Kanban project management approach – or a blend like “Scrumban” – and customize it to fit their needs.

What is Scrum?

Scrum is the most popular Agile project management framework. It was developed in the early 2000s and is now used by around two-thirds of Agile teams. Scrum teams organize their work into short, time-boxed work iterations called sprints. Sprints are typically two weeks long, and deliveries occur at the end of the sprint. Scrum project management follows Agile principles by adapting to new information and changing customer requirements quickly. However, Scrum aims to head off last-minute changes through extensive planning and communication with stakeholders going into each sprint.

Dive deeper into Scrum with our guides What Makes a Good Scrum Master? and Daily Standup Best Practices. For a comprehensive reference on Scrum management, terminology, and practices, check out the official Scrum Guide.

What is Kanban?

Kanban boards originated in the lean manufacturing model of Toyota in the 1950s. The Kanban system was adapted for software development teams starting in 2004. Unlike Scrum, Kanban does not follow a strict schedule. Project tasks are continuously assessed and prioritized, but not time-boxed. Kanban teams self-organize and adapt to changing requirements on the fly, collaborating to pivot as needed. There are no hard deadlines for work completion. Team members limit their work in progress to one or two prioritized tasks at a time, and deliver working code as soon as it’s ready.

Learn more about Kanban principles and good practices with our dedicated article Now You Can Have Your Kanban Board on Whiteboards.

Scrum board or Kanban board?

At a glance, the difference between these two boards is subtle. However, Scrum and Kanban task management differ considerably in their flow and focus. Scrum is highly structured, with defined team roles and a strict meeting schedule. Kanban workflow is more fluid, and roles are often shared among team members. Scrum aims to finish set increments of work by strict deadlines. Kanban focuses on producing continuous value, the earlier the better.

Here are the specific ways Scrum and Kanban teams approach task board management differently:

Workflow is divided into equal-length iterations called sprints. Sprints can be anywhere from one to four weeks long. Most Scrum teams work in two-week sprints.Workflow is continuous, not time-boxed.
The project backlog is examined before each sprint. Task completion times are estimated, tasks are prioritized, and a specific set of tasks is scheduled to be completed during the upcoming sprint.Backlog tasks are continuously assessed and prioritized. The next task to be completed is at the top of the backlog column, and so forth.
There can be any number of tasks in progress during a sprint.Tasks in progress are limited to a specific number. If the “In Progress” column exceeds this number, team members adjust their work to bring it back down. A typical WIP maximum for Kanban teams is two tasks per person.
Tasks are typically assigned to specific team members at the beginning of the sprint.Team members generally finish one task, then begin working on whatever task is next in the queue.
Each team member’s goal is to finish all assigned tasks by the end of the sprint. The order of completion is only constrained by task dependencies.Each team member’s goal is to complete the next task in the backlog as quickly as possible, then move on to the next task and repeat.
At the end of the sprint, tasks are cleared from the board and the process restarts.Completed tasks are removed periodically, but the board always contains a prioritized backlog and tasks in progress.
A Product Owner is responsible for backlog maintenance and communicating the product vision. A Scrum Master maintains schedules and runs regular meetings.Teams self-manage and define their own roles, which are often shared among members.
Developers hold brief meetings called daily stand-ups to coordinate their work each day. Sprint planning, reviews, and retrospectives are also scheduled in set time boxes for each sprint.The team establishes and maintains their own meeting schedule.

Choosing an Agile management approach

At this point, you probably have some idea whether you’re leaning toward a Scrum or Kanban framework. That’s a good start! If you like some of the elements of each, remember you can tailor your team’s approach. For instance, if Scrum feels too rigid and Kanban too unstructured, our article Scrumban vs. Kanban introduces you to an already-established hybrid system.

Curious what else is out there? Our Top 9 Types of Agile Methodologies: Beginner’s Guide provides an overview of additional Agile management styles.

Whatever management framework you’re considering, keep Agile practices front and center with our How To Go Agile the Right Way guide.

Everyday task board management

Whichever framework you decide to use, keep some basic good practices in mind when managing your task board:

  • Start simple. Colors, shapes, and labels can help your tasks stand out in the right ways. Just choose these thoughtfully and don’t go overboard. If it gets too complex too fast, you’ll start to lose people (or at the very least annoy them). 
  • Stay consistent. Reevaluate the task board setup periodically and stay curious about ways to improve it. But only make changes that add real value. People need a familiar visual reference to stay grounded in the work.
  • Update tasks continuously. As soon as a task’s status changes, move the card to its new column. The task board is your team’s one common visual reference point. The whole team should be able to see the current project status at all times.
  • Maintain a tidy backlog. Keep an eye on what’s coming up and make adjustments as necessary. Especially for Kanban-style teams, a consistently well-groomed backlog is key. Having the right tasks in the queue in the right order is crucial to project success.

Managing Agile boards with Whiteboards

With the Whiteboards standalone app, you can manage task boards right on the virtual whiteboard. If your team uses  Jira, Whiteboards’ native two-way Jira integration syncs your project planning sessions with your Jira task board. 

Hold team meetings on the virtual whiteboard using any of our 100+ customizable templates. Groom your backlog and prioritize upcoming tasks with our Product Backlog Refinement template or Value Effort Matrix template. Collaborate to estimate task completion effort with our Magic Estimation In Story Points template. Review your last sprint or project with the Start, Stop, Continue template to plan what you’ll do differently in the next iteration.

Strategize the next steps, then convert Whiteboards sticky notes to Jira task cards. Import tasks and other issues from Jira and manage them on the virtual whiteboard. Add or change card attributes, assign tasks to users, and batch-update multiple tasks instantly in the Whiteboards update zone. All changes sync in Jira and Whiteboards to keep your task board management seamless.

If you’re looking to jump straight into Jira, check out our Guide to Organizing Your Project Board Around Jira Swimlanes. Learn how to configure your Jira task boards so they’re organized and accessible for the entire team.