Visualizing the Progress (6/8)

One of my biggest productivity blockers used to be little to no visibility of the progress I was making. How can you measure result when you don’t have a clearly defined goal? With the constant changes of expectations, the result might just never be enough! And how can you keep up with your plans when you don’t even know where you stand? As a person driven by results, I often ended up demotivated and self-robbed of passion.

When I saw all those BVCs (= big visual charts) around my office, I really wished to have something like that for my personal stuff too. When you looked at them, you could immediately tell what the team was doing and what progress it was making in relation to the Backlog. And (this is really the best part) the progress was happening all the time. Many teams had these charts pinned to walls, and many teams were using online tools instead.

I just knew I didn’t want to use the wall + paper sticky notes approach. For a few reasons:

  • not accessible anytime I need it;
  • not exactly how I imagine my home to be decorated;
  • not forests friendly.

The rest was to discover.

Step 1: Choose your tools

The very first question to ask yourself when making the decision about the right tool to use is: What exactly am I going to use it for?

The sub-questions could be:

  • What is the structure of my Backlog? Are there projects and stories, or also epics? How do I want to track tasks?
  • Am I going to track one project at a time or more projects simultaneously? Or am I going to use a completely different approach (eg. make the current year my project)?
  • Am I going to have a team or am I going to work alone?
I’ve tried a few options and combinations of options, but eventually discovered this mixture works the best for me today:

  • one online kanban tool – for my Backlogs, for tracking status of ongoing projects, and for Retrospectives
  • one offline to-do list – for dynamic iteration planning and tracking iteration progress
  • one online or offline calendar (I prefer offline) – for risks and issues identification before iteration starts (planned trips, events, visits and other activities that I know will impact my progress), I also use it to write down my iteration goal

I will get back to to-do lists and calendars in my next post. Now I would like to focus on kanban tools. There are many of them, and probably the most popular one today is Trello. It is free and easy to use. The best choice for a beginner and pretty okay for anyone else too.

Out of curiosity, I tested 10 different tools before I found the one I eventually used (Favro). Here’s my list of top 5. They all have free versions:

5. Kanbanflow

Step 2: Move your work into your tools

Now that you’ve decided for an online tool to use, you can finally visualize your Backlog in it.

For each project that you have, you will need a progress board. If you have one project only (= one Backlog) or if you have an uncategorized, project-less to do list, one progress board will be enough. If you have more projects (= more Backlogs), set up a board for each separately.

(Also to consider: Favro lets you combine action items from more projects into one progress wall while still keeping Backlogs for these projects separated.)

Create Backlog column and move all epics and stories there. As you do this, prioritize – put those items that you want to or should work on first on the top of the list.

The progress board should also have columns Ready, Doing and Done. Optionally, it can have columns Blocked, Archive, and any other that you need. The number of columns and the names they will have depend on the flow that suits your stories and your iteration cadence. Some options are:

Backlog, Doing, Done;
Backlog, Ready, Blocked, In Progress, Done;
Backlog, First Draft, Edit, Final Review, Publish;
Backlog, This Week, Today, Done;
Sky, Earth, Labor, Yay;

Really up to you.

Whenever possible, split the stories you are working on into tasks. The tasks represent Definition of Done that is crucial in order to identify when your story is really finished and can be moved to the Done column. If it is not possible to split the story to tasks, define the ‘done’ directly by the story name or description.

Create one additional column in each project board and name it Retrospective.

Add the goal or the mission statement of your project to the project board (eg. as a subtitle) if the tool you chose makes this possible. In this way you will always stay in touch with your ‘why’.

Take the above advice as inspiration, not as a set of rules. The way you set up your boards should make it easy to work with them for you, not for me.

For example, one of my colleagues is using Trello and only has two columns in it. In column 1, she keeps the list of all her goals for the year  = her Backlog. In column 2, she has a separate card for each goal with a checklist of tasks. Once all tasks are done for the goal, she deletes it from column 2 and marks it complete in column 1.

Questions For You

What did you like? What did you learn? What did you lack?


2 thoughts on “Visualizing the Progress (6/8)

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