How to Kanban with Trello

You hear about Kanban all the time. There are great guides out there but you do not know where to start. Is this the case? I had the same problem too. So I tried to gather some really baby steps of implementing a simple Kanban system for your early development phase.

For some time now I worked with Trello. I like the UI (maybe not their latest change) and the overall simplicity of the platform and its free!

Want to get a whiteboard? or a SaaS app? draw a Kanban board and the game is on.

As the process is gradually changing, we find new useful things to add or things to remove. So in one month this board may not be the same.

The most important thing in Kanban is flow!
And don’t forget that  in every agile process, the definition of Done is really important!!! everybody in the team should know when something is “done”.

Here’s a working example of a Kanban board. You can start by drawing the following columns:

Backlog: Put all your ideas there as they come in. This can only be a repo of ideas – either large features (epics) or small user stories.  Big epics though have to be analysed and split in small user stories before they can be put in this column.

Backlog

Planned:  In this column we put user stories from the Backlog that we choose to work with. A good strategy is to have a biweekly meeting with your team to select which features will make it to this column from the Backlog, something very similar with the the Sprint Planning meeting in SCRUM. In my team we use 2 week iterations (sprints).

Planned column

Some teams prioritize the features in this column, but some do not.  Bugs could be added in this column as they come too. Some people create another column next to “Planned” that may hold these bugs.

Planned column 2

In Progress: In this column we have user stories and bugs that are currently in development.  Devs pull from Planned and add to In Progress.

Trello In progress and WIP 1

Two notes here: In each column we can have a Work in Progress (WIP) limit. This is very important in Kanban flow and it means “How many stuff I can do at the same time”. A WIP of 3 would be ok for starters.

*One small note about the WIP limits. The intial number is not validated until several days and try-outs. That way you may end up with a nymber that best suits your needs.

There is a nice Chrome extension for Trello called “Kanban WIP for Trello”  and can give you color information when you are at the WIP limit or over it.

Trello In progress and WIP 2

If you start having bugs and tasks (like Technical Stories) that should be added in the In Progress column you will quickly get over the WIP limit. There are ways to overcome that –  like puting the in their own column or do not count WIP towards these bugs. The reason is that bugs are often urgent and quite small. Technical Stories are related to infrastructure tasks / imporvements or tests. Their main job is to improve quality and make life easier for the team. So in a way they are making our overall process better and there is no reason to count them towards the WIP. 

What I like is adding another column next to In Progress in order to prevent a potential bottleneck prior testing. If you want to show that a story is finished by the dev and is ready for testing, add a column Ready for Testing. This will actualy act as a buffer. The difference between WIP columns and buffer is that buffers are clearly waste. Stories here are sitting and waiting and the larger the buffer the larger things take. Theoretically in a perfect system a User Story finished from development should be taken directly for testing. The good thing with this column is that it makes it clear for someone to see that the story was developed but not tested!

Trello ready for testing

The person that will do the testing will pull a story from this column into the next (Testing).

Testing: shows stories that are curently in testing. Put a WIP limit too (2 maybe?)

testing column

And after the Tester finishes the story goes to….. Done.

done column

This is a small and as simple as possible example but it should be more than enough for the team to start getting agil-ish…

————————
Tools used:
Trello
Kanban WIP for Trello


George Psistakis

I love technology and working with people. That is why I am trying to offer as much as I can at the local startup ecosystem and at the same time building Blendo. A a platform to help you create a Single Source of Truth for your data by bring together data across multiple SaaS tools!
I am co-organizer of the Agile Greece and API Athens meetups and I contribute at the Developer Economics Blog.


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12 thoughts on “How to Kanban with Trello

    • Thank you! Glad you liked it. Exactly that.. Though we use Trello for other uses where it fits nicely. For example we keep feedback that we get from people. I will try to write something about that at some point.

    • There are a few time tracking plugins for Trello you may want to check out, for example
      1. Plus for Trello – Free, not the nicest UI but you can track estimates vs actual time spent on cards.
      2. PunchTime – Paid but the UI is a whole lot nicer and I think it adds some niceties plus doesn’t have.
      There are others which sync the time data to their own service (ie Harvest and others)

      I’ve also got my own tool (http://getcorrello.com) which hopefully it’s OK for me to mention. No time tracking as that’s already done pretty well by others. I focus on reporting such as Cumulative Flow Diagrams and Cycle Time Charts etc.

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