Modeling the world in Post-It notes

A wall of story cards

Neon colors brighten rooms without windows... and make your eyes go buggy.

I decided to take a little break today and write something a little more on the creative and fun side.

I hope you don’t mind.

If you wanted one of my more serious posts, please jump here for another topic or come back tomorrow and enjoy the time I gave back to you today.

Here’s my creative context: I am working through some thinking practices as I deconstruct and reconstruct a client’s business domain.

A bazillion multi-colored Sharpies surround me, plus self-adhesive easel pads, colorful charts, spreadsheets, documents and process flows.

I love being surrounded by information and knowledge, and I love to sprawl. Bringing order to this kind of mess is the Great Puzzle we get to solve every day in IT, right?

(To be clear, when I say “mess”, I mean my war room, not my client. They know the truth!)

How could I ever run out of sticky notes?

But with all this joy surrounding me, I just realized I have no sticky notes (besides the ones on my laptop screen)… which reminded me of one of my newest Cyber-friends out in Australia, Alicia Dudek, and her post titled “Post-Its and the Real World”.

Alicia is pretty creative and though I have only known of her for a few weeks now, her creativity has a contagion to it that I really enjoy. Check her out if you are in that frame of mind. (If you got this far in my post, you just might be…)

So what’s the big deal about stickies?

I’m glad you asked.

When I first learned Extreme Programming, I learned about physical cards. I taught my teams using 4″x6″ cards, figuring they are big enough to see, hold and write on.

They are also more fun to tear up than 3″x5″ cards (which is a ceremony for my teams).

And then when I discovered office supply stores made them in all sorts of colors… including various neon shades, I was STOKED!!!

Story-tracking software

You know, I did use some story tracking software packages on a few projects… but I found that having the physical card was a visual clue to everyone on the team about how we were doing.

In addition, maintaining cards in software carries a fair amount of administrative burden… though it does produce nice reports and graphs.

But I was never a Post-It kinda guy. I rarely stick them anywhere… I just write on the top one, and maybe push it across my desk somewhere. More often, I complete the item or list and throw the sticky in the trash.

It looks like even Winston Churchill had stickies in his (real) war room... look on the back wall. Yes, I know they hadn't been invented yet.

So when I got to Alicia’s “Post-It post”, I realized how much stickies might be used in software development… and not just for site maps

Then I did a little research, and found out that more people use them than I thought:

  • I can see how their smaller form factor might keep your stories smaller.
  • I can see how requirements can’t get too big when your means of recording them is so small.

But how do you write on the back? What happens when the glue stops sticking?

I don’t think I am going to convert.

Oh, and now that I look… I seem to be low on 4″x6″ cards, too.

So this is something of a creative day off for my blog… soon I will write about Sprint holidays (but not yet).

If you got this far, you must have an opinion… stickies or cards? 3″x5″ or 4″x6″? Story software, or physical cards?

And why do you have a preference? There are no wrong answers, as far as I can imagine.