Tips for Trello: How to use Kanban more effectively

I use Trello frequently as my digital Kanban system of choice. Here are a few tips that I used when using Trello and what I advise those on my team to follow.

Limit Work In Progress. Focus is hard to achieve if you are split in 100 different directions at the same time. Your Kanban board can be a helpful tool for you to keep razor focus on the stuff that you have made a commitment to your team will be completed that day.

Remove yourself from cards where your contribution is complete. Often times your team mates will attach you to share ownership of a card. However, this ownership doesn’t necessarily mean for life. It could be you are required for a key decision or specific technical knowledge to finish the task and your involvement is imminently required. Once you have made the decision or help your team overcome the challenge that you were brought on to the card and you aren’t needed anymore to get the task to done simply remove yourself from the card so it doesn’t clutter your workspace.

Prioritize your backlog. Having your backlog of tasks well maintained and pruned is critical in getting the right things done at the right time. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes to drag things and re-order them around. Just use your gut. In certain situations you might need feedback from an authority or outside party to be a tie breaker for items that have similar priority.

Make sure ALL work in progress is represented. The Kanban provides a useful tool to help you manage your time and get the right things done at the right time. The Kanban helps you plan for the future (the backlog), [as a true jedi] live in present (in progress) and learn from the past (completed). If you are ghosting activities (meaning not all your work is in the Kanban) the utility of the Kanban is severely diminished. Even when there are external ticketing tools (fresh desk, summit, etc.) it’s important to put placeholders for the tickets that come in. It doesn’t mean you need to copy the entire thread but having at least a placeholder with the ticket # from the ticketing system will help you integrate resolving tickets from external ticketing systems into your day to day work.

Write down key decisions and data. When you are working a card to ‘done’ in a Kanban its helpful to write down the problem, possible solutions, current thinking, summarize (or just plain copy and paste) key communications into the card to help you understand what happened and why. This is especially useful if the work ever gets re-opened and you (or your teammates) want to understand the context of the task.

Break down large cards into smaller cards to encourage flow. When a card sits in progress for days, weeks, or worse even months. It’s a very bad thing. It blocks flow. A Kanban system is a big information radiator whose primary purpose is to visualize the flow of work from not started to DONE.

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