Recently the team I am the Scrum Master of has started using an electronic tool for tracking stories, tasks and sprints. Whilst I do not object to using such tools for Scrum I feel a common misconception is that these tools are required for Scrum to be successful. My personal preference is to run a manual Scrum board located very close (if not in) the area the team operates. I find this works best and keeps the process low ceremony and acts as very valuable information radiator for the team, stakeholders and anyone within the organisation. The temptation with just an electronic board is to leave it all in the tool which means if you do not have the URL of the tool you have no idea of progress of the current sprint or what is in the backlog.

I also find tools to some degree contradict part of the agile manifesto

Individuals and interactions over processes and tools

Tools can be valuable but are they essential?

JIRA

I’ve used JIRA in previous teams and have found it to be one of the better tools I have used. It is a very mature product from Atlassian which means it has a very strong base. The JIRA Agile plugin (or Greenhopper as it was previously known) is a must. This plugin allows electronic versions of the backlog and scrum boards (it also supports Kanban) with a drag and drop interface for ease of use.

To be fair to JIRA and other tools they do provide some positives

  1. For distributed teams or distributed members of a team it can be very difficult for them to see the physical board so an electronic tool can be useful here
  2. Tools such as JIRA Agile allow story artefacts such as designs, documentation, wire-frames to be attached in one central location rather than emails or print outs.
  3. Most tools auto-generate the sprint reports such burndown charts, velocity reports etc

All in all I think a tool can help a Scrum team but I always manually replicate anything in the tool to a physical board. It’s more work for a Scrum Master but I class the board as an integral part of the process for which the Scrum Master is responsible for.