Scaling teams: Kanban

Workflow management as a Kanban

Kanban is an agile method for managing team or project workflow.

Trello is a powerful tool for managing work in Kanban style, even using the free settings. Flexible and adaptable, it provides a lot of freedom for how to do things. Other tools such as Jira are far more powerful in terms of what they allow you to do. They are also pricey. It may well suit a larger analytics team to work with a more powerful tool such as Jira, especially since it provides more in the way of reporting features giving a manager the ability to track progress directly from the data stored in the system. However, the behaviours needed to work within a Kanban structure can be established with Trello for free, allowing a new or maturing team to settle into the way of working first, then switching as needed to a new tool that might expand or speed up practices in the future. People, process, technology usually works best in that order.

How can you create the structure for best practice behaviours in Trello as a Kanban?

In talking about Flow we established the ways of working that can best help move change forward:

  • Agreeing collectively ways of working to test and iterate.
  • Collectively setting expectations of behaviour.
  • Setting up structures and tools to enable agreed ways of working.
  • Agreeing some accountability mechanisms to help expectations to be met.
  • Realising how much of the work boils down to building relationships based on trust and good communication.

How did we put this into practice?

Deciding together what to test
We decided to test moving from a person per column to a Kanban structure for the main team Trello board.

Expectations set

We agreed to ensure the board was up to date for our Monday team meeting and that we would update our cards so that anyone looking at one could see at a glance what the item was, and the current status. We agreed that each card would have a team member responsible for it.

As team manager I took it as my responsibility to make sure that items were clear every Monday and that each team member also had a summary card with their name on listing their priorities for the week.

Tools to help us: using functionality in Trello
To show who owned the cards we adding Members, one each to show who each card on the board belonged to.

We agreed to add Checklists to cards so that small tasks were linked up together under ‘pieces of work’ which could make their way across the board. This took some adjustment. There is a sense of achievement that comes from moving cards to done. However, if all tiny tasks have their own card then the board becomes cluttered and confusing. If each card is a piece of work, then checklists can show the tasks that are coming up and need to be completed before the card moves on.

After holding a session to agree the team’s 6 month priorities we put these on the far left of the board and created Labels for each. That way we could label cards with the priority that they fit, making it easy to see what work built towards our objectives and which was ‘other’.

Trust and Communication
In each team meeting we checked in to see how the new structure was working for people. Through this process we could gauge what was working (people were positive) and how it helped (people particularly liked listing their priorities for the week ahead, it helped them stay on track and push back on other requests). We could also get feedback on what didn’t work so well and discuss together how that could be adapted so we could test it again over the next week or two. An example of this was our set up of columns where we started off with a certain number of columns representing different aspects of progress on a card, we had too many columns to start with so we agreed the definitions and streamlined them as we went.

This is an ongoing process of test, reflect, adapt which is agreed as a team, keeping things collaborative, productive, flexible and positive. There is no right answer for exactly what the structure of your workflow management should be, but this is an approach that can help you find your own best way of doing things.

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