What tool should be used to track backlog items?

When a client asks me about what tool I would recommend for tracking backlog items, I return with a question of my own. How distributed is the team? I should also point out that my definition of distributed means outside of one open, shared work space area and includes working from home.

If the answer approaches that they’re 1/2 way around the world, then I find out if the remote team can implement stories on their own. I also probe to see if there is any sort of remote proxy for the Scrum roles of Product Owner and Scrum Master. If the team can only work on one component, or perform limited functions, then I answer along the following lines:

I like sticky notes on a wheeled whiteboard. Let’s ensure this high-touch board is in place. An electronic instance is needed when the team is highly distributed to persist what is going on with the physical board. We can identify what tool best captures this data for your context, or modify the one in place to suit these purposes.

It would be best to get the remote folks together for Sprint planning and reflection. Let’s have a representative on each local team for the remote group. This proxy for the remote team will also be responsible for the local team writing the tasks on to sticky notes needed for delivery. Additionally, they need to ensure these tasks get in to the electronic tool before the remote team starts their Sprint. During the Sprint, this proxy will keep an eye on progress, move the stickies to match the electronic board, and talk to the remote team at least once a week.

If it is a local team only, and they insist on an electronic tool, I like having the Scrum Master responsible for synchronizing the two systems.

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