Duplication is not efficient – don’t encourage it

In the digital world that we live and work within, I find it interesting how some project management approaches are still encouraging the frequent use of pen and paper to capture requirements and track progress. Even Agile, a methodology which I adore and evangelize prefers this, but I’m far from convinced.

My biggest concern with this approach is duplication. The time spent to physically write requirements or tasks onto an index card is largely wasted as it will need to be reproduced within a software tool also. Having a physical sprint board hanging on the wall with the user stories attached may give a nice visual representation of progress – but for the team only. Again, this data will need to be reproduced digitally and, critically, updated frequently as stories move back and forth, get reassigned or closed.

From experience (and I appreciate that I’m generalising a little), a developer wants only to log into their task system, work on and complete a task that is assigned to them before closing it off or reassigning. The suggestion that getting up from your desk and physically moving a card from “in progress” to “done” is a little too idealistic for me to digest. 

It’s a novelty which will wear off quickly.

It isn’t just for requirements or user stories either. Considering that our tablets, laptops and mobile phones all talk to each other and share the same data, why make meeting notes in a notepad when you could make them digitally once and have access to them wherever you are. Distributing typed notes and actions from your iPad immediately after the meeting has concluded is efficient. Taking time to decipher your written notes, re-word and eventually get into the hands of those who need to see them is not. And that’s assuming you can find your notepad and single copy of your data.

I’m labouring a point – but it is true. Duplication is not efficient.

I’m not blindsided or stubborn enough to notice that there are some benefits to working with physical materials. Collaboration could be considered easier when sat around a table moving index cards around, for example. In addition, if your project team is working on internal development and does not require separate reporting (or in other words, your stakeholders are based in the same location and can visually see the sprint board) then duplication is minimal and it might work for you.

Weighing everything up, my point still stands. Digital companies spend a lot of time investing in automation and limiting duplication of work for one single reason – to increase efficiency. Why then, would you add a project management layer on top of this which forces keeping two different systems in sync and updated. Change something on a physical user story card also means tracking it down within the system and updating it digitally also.

If you can remove an hour’s worth of work from a Project Manager or Scrum Master’s daily schedule by avoiding the need to duplicate data, that is surely a worthwhile consideration for any sensible structure.

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