Index Cards as an Agile Work Tool

Index cards are an excellent tool to use to optimize communication. There are two primary types of use for index cards.

1. Dynamic Collaboration

Many types of meetings can be made more collaborative and therefore more effective by the use of index cards. Cards are written on to record ideas. By writing on cards, all the participants in the meeting can see the ideas.

As an example, suppose that a team is examining two competing ideas of some complexity. The team uses two colors of 5×7 index cards and a pile of Sharpie(R) markers. The different card colors represent the competing ideas. Members of the team take cards and write down their comments as they think of them. The team member then reads their card aloud and passes it to a facilitator. The facilitator takes the cards and puts them up on the wall under various categories. The team uses a thinking tool such as PMI (Pluses, Minuses, Interesting) from CoRT to organize the cards.

Contrast this method with someone taking notes. Using the cards allows all the team members to see all the information at the same time. It also allows team members to come up to the wall and either add notes to a card or move cards around.

2. Dynamic Tracking

Teams are more focused when they are constantly aware of the status of their work. Index cards can be used to improve the team’s awareness of status information by forming them into an “information radiator”.

For example, a team might be working from a list of tasks. Each task can be written on an index card. The task cards can then be put on a wall and organized into groupings based on their completion state. A typical set of states might include “Not Started”, “In Progress”, “Waiting for Test”, “Tested” and “Approved”. As team members work on tasks, they move them from group to group. In this way, the team can easily see how much work they have done, and have yet to start. As work progresses, the team gets immediate positive feedback as the number of cards in the “Approved” state grows.

This method can be compared to an online project plan status updated by a project manager. The index card information radiator is participatory and always visible. It requires no effort to check status, and provides tangible motivation and focus for team members.

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