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A Kanban Board That Actually Reflects Your Workflow

07.11.2010
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Many Agilists and Kanbanites know the basic setup for a workflow board, but the real challenge is taking that board and making it reflect your development team's unique workflow.  Some workflows are harder to represent than others.  Sometimes it's ok to break with tradition and send an item backwards if it works for your particular context.  The important thing is that you spend some time designing your Kanban board and its flow so that it fits your workflow.  After that, just try different things and learn.

Emin Tatosian sets a good example in his blog, which explains how he studied various layouts in his office and searched on the web for more inspiration.  The board has changed many times since it was created, and it will continue to change, he says.  Below you can see his current (favorite) permutation:



Greg Frazer's Lean Software Experience Report demonstrates how difficult it can be to understand the flux and instability in your team's workflow: "Surely [we thought] we would be able to construct the board as the result of a quick half-day discussion.  It actually took us the better part of a week with significant dedicated discussions.  There was also a rapid set of evolutionary changes spread over the first two months."  

Adam Shone supplements Emin Tatosian's blog with an example of an early, flawed board design:  "We were fairly confident that the board matched our actual workflow. However when we put it into practice we quickly discovered that the adage about no battle plan surviving first contact with the enemy was coming true – cards were bunny hopping across the board with scant regard for several of the columns:"



Shone's team eventually fixed their Kanban board in the first sprint retrospective.  In short, designing a Kanban board is hard: "You might think that you can draw out your workflow with your eyes closed, but how closely does your theory match reality?"  You need to research, get help, and also understand that your board must reflect your workflow.  Not the one you saw in a book, not the one in your friend's company, not the one you wish you had… just yours.  Remember that different work items may have different workflows.  Getting it right will be a challenge, but the rewards are definitely worth it.