The I am not allowed to do columns like that-problem

· February 20, 2013

Today I talked with someone that was about to create her first ever board, for a team. She was a bit worried as she couldn’t fit her normal workflow on the board. We sat down and discussed for a while and her reasoning and where she got it from made me both sad and upset at the same time.

In this blog post I’ll tell you more and then show why I thought that she had got some really bad advice.

Here’s how our dialog played out: Me: “What do you mean: I can’t fit our workflow on the board” She: “Well, it doesn’t fit within Scrum or agile. We have an old way of working, I guess it probably doesn’t work for us.” Me: “Really?! Tell me about it: what do you do first” She: “Ok - we have a Inbox or list of stuff, and then it’s Analytics, Systemization, Developing, Test, Integration test and Acceptance test and then move to Production.” Me: “Great - those are your columns.” She: “But… I wasn’t allowed to write those.” Me: “??? Come again?” She: “Our (Scrum-)teacher said that writing the sequence of our process like that was waterfall and that it was wrong.

Ok - first and foremost: Scrum, agile, kanban, do whatever and even the board are tools. Bend them to your will and make them work for you.

Map the workflow on the board to your process, exactly as it works today. This is a small change that doesn’t call any harm at all. It’s easy for everyone to understand and we don’t change a thing - we just show it.

Starting where you are today give you the advantage of tweaking the process, as you know it, into something better. If you instead did something that someone else has told have you end up in a place where you don’t really know how stuff works. “So what came after Analytics? ‘Write acceptance critters’?! What are we supposed to do there?”

Waterfall… oh our beloved waterfall process. I have done my fair share of bashing it too, and it’s probably not optimal. Very few places I’ve come across work that way. Mostly it’s handovers from difference departments and roles, and that is optimal either. But if that’s how you work today… Why rip up the organization and start with cross-functional teams?

This is a mega-change! Most (big) organizations, I have worked with, have a hard time just changing role names and move people to sit together.

Finally: the columns on a board reflect your process. It’s not the people, or at least don’t have to be. You could have a cross-functional team pick the item up in the Inbox and then take it through Analytics, Systemization, Developing, Test, Integration test, Acceptance test and all the way to Production. If you wanted to. Our maybe some parts of that process are done by one role in the team and some by other roles. It’s up to you.

What to do then?

Here’s my suggestion: change as little as possible. Make the board (or whatever you use) reflect your workflow. This is a tool for you. Make it work for you not against you. You never heard a carpenter say:

“Yeah, I don’t know about this new 20 gram hammer… It doesn’t work for me, but since they told me to use it, I probably better… Would sure love something heavier though. To do the job right, I mean”

This is not news. It’s common sense. Use it. Start where you are and make the board reflect your process. Improve from where you are now - not where literature on Scrum, XP or any other process tells you that you should be.

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