Tango With Trello

My two-step forward, one-step back dance with Trello began way before I boarded the kanban train. In the beginning we used it as our main tool for planning, documenting and controlling development. The team was willing to try it, after using a whiteboard and (not-so) sticky notes with the planned-doing-done trio, which we copied to Trello.

Starting out it was ok. We had a dedicated screen for it. We had the stand up meeting near it. And then overtime, we moved away from that screen. The Trello board was always there, ready to be used in a push of a button on your own screen. Yet only some of us looked at it occasionally.

Which kind of bothered me, but I was willing to go with it. Push of a button, right?

Something else made me yearn for the manual board, but at the time, I couldn’t tell what it was.

When I started reading more about kanban, I thought Trello might be my board.I was experimenting with some tools, and Trello fit into my new view of the world. I still used the trio, since there wasn’t much to add. After reading “Personal kanban” I added the “today” and “the pen” and recently the “for reflection” columns. Got the WIP limit up on each list. Plus, the iPhone app for Trello made it easy to add tasks wherever I was.

I’ve made a habit of reviewing it weekly, daily and when moving tickets around. So it’s pretty much up there all the time. I like the visibility that was missing from the team board. But it’s still a button push away, right?

There was still something bothering me, and I still couldn’t put my finger on it.

When we started re-organizing the support team, we’ve started off with a manual whiteboard again. We’ve played with different configurations, and after a while I could finally say what I liked about the whiteboard over Trello: It was big.

It wasn’t that big in the beginning. We’ve put two big boards together to show the entire workflow. You can actually have a look at the wall, and everything good, and especially bad, was staring you in your face. And you needed to do something about it. Which is the whole point of a big board.

On a small screen, you can’t see everything, as the lists contain too many tasks. You can scroll up and down to see everything, but for that you need to be near the screen, holding the mouse.

You can’t see the whole picture.

That’s why Trello works for me personally, on my screen. That’s why it doesn’t work for me as a team information radiator.

The agile manifesto tells us to value individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Our tools should not tell us how to work, but instead should serve the work. The tools are not there to put constraints on us, individuals.

Yet they sometimes provide productivity enhancements. The team seems to like this productivity over big picture view, at least for now.

For the time being I’m going to continue using Trello for as my personal kanban system.

Even at that, I find the lack of big picture… disturbing.

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