Last year we launched the Ultimate Wallboard Contest, Atlassian’s search to find the best information radiators and wallboards. We were amazed by the response from around the world: 87 entries ranging from polished products to midnight hack sessions. We wanted to share the secrets from the cream of the crop wallboards entrants. Here are their stories. Stay tuned for a few more posts as we work through the winning categories.

 The Ultimate Wallboard

As we announced back in December, Ole Højriis Kristensen from the Vodafone Web Team in Denmark was voted the Ultimate Wallboard winner in the Ultimate Wallboard contest. To recap:

Ole’s submission impressed our panel of wallboard experts with the effective combination of an “old school” physical wallboard with heaps of modern technology. “The compelling aspect to me about this one is the combined use of automatically updated graphical display with manually moved papers to give both quick graphical oversight for visitors and detailed paper view with tactical/kinesthetics for team members.” – Alistair Cockburn

After the contest we caught up with Ole to better understand the magic behind his wallboard and impressive RFID implementation. Read on for more details.

The Winner

Tell us a little about yourself.
A few years ago, I made the leap from being a developer to a scrum master and project manager, currently on the Vodafone Web Team. This is my nighttime project to keep my sanity. I did all the coding on the wallboard during the night.

What was your inspiration for the project?
It started when we were using Mingle and Mantis. Mingle for stories, Mantis for bug tracking. But it was a pain, we wanted an overview status page for the team. 6 months ago we started with a big whiteboard with handwritten notes. I wrote a note on the wall each time a story or issue came in. We were believers in all of the standard arguments for information radiation.

How many developers use the wallboard?
We have 10 front-end developers in Copenhagen on the web team, 4 testers in Kiev, 2 developers in London, 1 in Düsseldorf and most of our backend team is in Düsseldorf. The board can run in multiple locations, so we set-up a twin board in Düsseldorf. The second wallboard can display a notice on the screen that says a change was made on the other board so it never gets out of sync.

The Wallboard

Is this the main wallboard?
Correct, what you can’t see is there’s another wallboard off screen just behind on the opposite side of the last person to assign himself to an issue. It takes a picture of you as you take your avatar and swipe it on the board. It then updates the story in Jira. Two cameras in total, one facing the board and one facing the user. It’s become a competition to make the funniest picture on the wall behind us, and then it sends the picture out as a Twitpic on the boards’ Twitter account. For the team in London and Düsseldorf, Germany it’s a way to have them smile and put a face to Copenhagen development team. It’s a private Twitter account as it also tweets the titles of the stories as they’re ready to development.

Give us a little background on how the wallboard has evolved.
I got tired with walking back and forth between updating the board, Jira and Mingle. I was using RFID tags for another project, and I thought it would be the ideal way to bridge the physical world of Jira or Mingle. We switched to Jira shortly after this. This was the spark that said we could do it a little more tolerantly. I used to have to print out something, go into my admin interface, put it in a pocket with a RFID chip, associate it with Jira. It annoyed me far more than it annoyed the developers. It took me 10 minutes to get individual updates into the system.

The next iteration was an attempt to automate. We configured the wallboard to constantly monitor Jira, parsing an XML feed every minute. It checks for new stories, imports to the mapping system between the tags and Jira. And then we have a receipt printer like in a retail store. It prints out the card with details on where to find the Jira ticket and automatically assigns to a chip in the pocket next to the board. So you pull out the paper and put it on the board and it’s all tracked through Jira.

Our definition of done – QA and project owner should be happy with story. But that doesn’t work with the traditional scrum board, any of the two could happen first depending on who looks at it first. If the QA team is happy, they add a comment that says QA happy. The board sees this and prints out a new version of the card with the stamp that says this. So they can see physically on the board that you need approval for these issues. We started with physical pieces of little slips to say QA is happy but the problem was that if they fell out, we had no way to track this. The test team in Kiev were trying to squint through the webcam to figure out what was happening, it just didn’t work well. The Jira comment field allowed us to fix this.

You keep the time-lapse video going all the time?

How does the display work?
It’s a projector. We’re on our 5th projector now having burned through the bulbs as people forget to turn them off. Sometimes I turn it off on a weekend, one of the kinks. I’m trying to get the Vista machine to go into hibernate mode every night. The columns that you see in the time-lapse videos are estimations of points. So if you look at the board, maybe 2 cards for development. The columns are the percentage of story points in each column, another way to look at the burn-down that’s also displayed on the board.

Data Sources

Where’s the burn-down data from?
It’s from GreenHopper which are then ripped through PHP, made transparent, inverted and made to stand out a little more on the board.

You seemed to have bridged the gap between the physical story wall and the convenience and power of the digital wallboard. What’s your opinion on the importance of each?
The guys on the web team here in Copenhagen are all web wizards, and know the latest and greatest like HTML5 and CSS3. They are amazingly talented and have sugge
sted doing something web-based with HTML5. However, I’m a big believer in the physical nature of the wallboard. If you can have something physical that you can take on your desk, take down from the wall, it activates a whole new area of your brain. A lot of effort goes into doing it pure digital. Pure GreenHopper would be a lot easier but I’m a strong believer in the tangible interface of the story board that you can touch and talk about. Everyone gathers around the board to discuss stories, we think this is really valuable.

What other data sources are you pulling from?
We kick off builds from the board, from development to complete it sends out a Twitter message to our testers. Then kicks off a build in Cruise Control. Once the build is done, then kicks off a new tweet to testers and says where you can test the new build.

Also displays velocity projection? Two lines deviating on the burn-down, is that from GreenHopper?
Exactly, actual and predicted burn-downs.

Are you writing JQL queries and then scraping them?
Yep. This is all PHP in a custom framework. In Vodafone, the Jira installation is managed centrally so I have to make do with what I have. Mostly a replay of HTTP requests and fetching of the XML output and search results. Putting that all together is the tricky part.


How much money has gone into this solution?
Money-wise, it’s very cheap. Taking away the projectors we’ve burnt off, it’s basically a few readers, a few chips, two cameras, a computer and a projector.

How much development time has gone into the board?
A lot of long nights and tired mornings were spent coding. I can’t tell you how much time, but it’s been a lot. There’s a lot of code written, but much of it could be refactored. It’s been rewarding to make it happen.

What are some of the other benefits of the wallboard? Any significant changes in the team that didn’t exist before?
People actually think it’s fun to update on a project management tool. You see people trying to dodge the camera, jumping in from the right. We save a time-lapse update of every update and add to Jira. I spoke with a departing teammate and he told me, ‘You don’t know how much this board meant to the team.’ It becomes a physical presence, a project manager with a friendly personality. That’s not something you hear about with a browser-based project management tool, typically something you just do for management. It’s an impartial observer that helps you deliver what you need to deliver. Because we represent the burn-down so visibly, everyone is helping to make it as pretty as possible. It becomes a team effort to drive it down at a consistent rate.

The Future

What’s next for the wallboard?
It’s very much a work in progress. It’s constantly having new stuff added to it. It’s a team mission to make it as cool as possible. My next version will be more aesthetically pleasing. Right now, it’s a whiteboard which is basically duct-tape and cameras. I also have most of Vodafone wanting to make this into a product that they could use. It’s become a big pastime of mine in optimizing this.

What do you think about mobile integration?
We have an iPad that’s next to the wallboard today if you want further details on the story. But definitely, the mobile approach could be very interesting. If the iPhone 5 comes out with RFID scanners, I would be all over that. But until then, we’ve only got a few Nokia’s with NFC readers.

Questions or ideas for Ole?
Have an idea on how to improve the Vodafone wallboard? Curious about something we didn’t ask? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear what’s on your wallboard.

Thirsty to learn more?
Check out this deep dive video demonstration (15 minutes long) Ole put together that describes more about how the wallboard works.


Ultimate Wallboard Interview Series: Ultimate Wall...