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Mark Pearl


I thought it would be interesting to blog out the evolution of our story cards. Several months ago I began work at a new organization that was implementing a variation of scrum. The used the typical post-it notes for stories.



While the post-it notes were serving their purpose, there were a few area’s that we were having issues with:

Some of the issues included the following:

  • The post-it notes did not have a great stick quality. This meant that anything older than a few weeks was falling by the wayside or the floor.
  • Different people on the team, the stories were being filled in differently, in some cases information would be forgotten.
  • The post-it notes varied in color – and so certain stories stood out while others faded into the background depending on the color of the post-it note (No formal color had been selected for different types of stories)

Our first attempt the solution – throw technology at it

The first suggestion to solving the issue was to move our system from a physical board to a digital one. We looked at various solutions including one called “Pivotal Tracker” that seemed pretty decent. HOWEVER considering the pro’s and con’s of digitizing the solution we steered away from this route.

Our motivation was…

  • We have a co-located team so we have no distance challenges that would be faced with a remote based team where a digital solution would probably be necessary
  • We saw benefit in a physical board as we felt it promoted communication within the team
  • We felt a physical board made things visible

Second attempt – remove the post-it notes from the equation – Make custom story cards

The main issues with the post-it notes was the stick quality, inconsistency of how stories were being written and the vary colors. The benefits of the post it notes were they were easy to write on and move around, so we decided to eliminate them and replace them with small index cards.

A quick visit to the local stationer and we found some bright colored cardboard that was thin enough to go through our printer. We then made basic templates for the different categories of cards we wanted…

We had 4 categories of cards

  1. Planned Stories
  2. Unplanned Stories
  3. Bugs
  4. Blocked (originally smaller post-it notes that we stuck onto the story when it was blocked)

With this in mind, we had the following layout for planned stories

Planned Story Card v1 (1)

This at least gave us a standard format to work by so those capturing the stories would not forget our critical information.

We then set specific colors for different types of cards

  • Planned Stories – Light Yellow
  • Unplanned Stories – Bright Orange
  • Bugs – Red
  • Blocked (Pink Post-It Notes)

The Unplanned stories looked identical to the planned ones except for the color change and the top right title being changed to UNPLANNED.

Bugs are the same size as the Planned and Unplanned stories, but we removed the Actor, Action & reason sections and instead just left one big opening.


We felt this was a step in the right direction. By using the colors to signify the type of item we were at a glance able to see identify items quicker. Also by adding headers, we found fewer of the team members we missing critical information.

Third Attempt – Refactor the cards

After a few weeks we decided to refactor the cards again to look as follows…

Planned Story Card v2 (2)

We had moved from a purely scrum based setup to Kanban approach and did away with story points. Instead all we wanted to do was identify flow of jobs, and how long they had been actively worked on.

We added the additional headers to the card:

  • Planned – the date the story was initially conceived
  • STARTED – the date the story began to be worked on
  • COMPLETED – the date the story had finished through testing and had been completed
  • DAYS WORKED ON – this was an area we just put a dot in every active day the card had been worked on


We again saw some gains in these additional sections – one of the challenges we were seeing as a team was that some of our stories were really epics – by adding the “Days Worked On” section we could quickly see stories that were bigger than we thought.

Fourth Attempt

Our fourth and current attempt looks as follows…

Planned Story Card v3 (2)

The only difference is that we have now added columns and rows for the “Days Worked On” section. We did this because we saw people squishing the dots closely together, by adding the columns and rows, and working on a one dot per cell policy we restricted stories to take a maximum of 24 days… as soon as we start seeing more than 4 or 5 dots it is an indication that our story is to large and can be subdivided.

In Summary

The reality is that there will never be a best approach. Something I have come to realize is that teams go through definite stages of progression, and so as our needs change the board will change. I have seen that as we have made minor adjustments to the planning board it is beginning to guide us in what we do and to highlight potential problems. So for now I am happy with them, it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 6 months and see where we are at. Posted on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 1:33 PM Misc , Agile , Scrum | Back to top

Comments on this post: Our evolution of story cards

# re: Our evolution of story cards
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Terrific ideas! It's always great to see someone share a very specific way of doing Scrum. These cards make a lot of sense and can be valuable to almost any Scrum team. Have you thought about differentiating between 'development complete' and 'testing complete'? One could also add 'Product Owner accepted'. I don't want to go overboard but the definition of done is important.

Thanks for sharing!
Left by Vin D'Amico on Jan 18, 2012 9:07 PM

# re: Our evolution of story cards
Requesting Gravatar...
@Vin - thanks for the post. We did think about differentiating between "dev complete" and "test complete", however we moved this functionality to the board and not the cards. I also think the definition is really important, so will blog about it sometime.
Left by MarkPearl on Jan 19, 2012 6:47 AM

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