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The Importance of a Clean Development Board

Ben Selland

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Ben is Founder & CEO of Selland Technologies; a pro at utilizing strategy to maintain processes, his company has been named a leader in the marketing & digital advertising industry for good reason.

A clean development board is often an excellent proxy for the quality of work a team produces. In fact, I would argue that it is not just a trailing indicator, but can be used to increase team productivity. If a team is struggling or under a lot of stress, one of the highest-value activities in my experience is tidying the board and the backlog. 

The same concept is true on a macro level. A well-defined set of milestones is a good indicator of team productivity and a good remedial measure when attempting to dig a project out of a hole. It is important to remember that these tools (Kanban Boards, Milestones, etc.) are intended to create team cohesion, not obedience. By ensuring the team is aligned on micro and macro objectives, the team is more likely to deliver quality work on time.

How Kanban Boards Work

Kanban boards are one of the most popular project management tools used by agile development teams today. A Kanban board visually represents the tasks involved in a project and their status (e.g. To Do, In Progress, Done). This tool helps teams track progress and identify bottlenecks so they can optimize their workflow.

There are three main parts to a Kanban board:

The Backlog: This is where all of the tasks for a project are stored. Tasks can be added or removed from the backlog at any time.

The Kanban Board: This is where tasks from the backlog are moved as they are worked on. Tasks typically move from left to right across the board (e.g. To Do -> In Progress -> Done).

The Workflow: This is the process that tasks go through as they are worked on. Each task must go through all of the steps in the workflow before it can be considered “done.”

Kanban boards help us measure progress against a project in day-by-day increments. Tasks should move through the board over the course of a couple of days, and if they don’t, they may need to be broken up differently. Kanban boards are most useful when they closely reflect The Workflow of the team using them. For that reason, many project boards will look different, but they all work on the same principle: Start a task on the left and finish it on the right.

Using Milestones to Measure Progress

While a Kanban board measures progress and tracks objectives on a day-to-day (or sprint) level, milestones can be used to track the more significant portions of a project. Milestones should be larger features or collections of features that, together, make up the project’s scope. Typically, there will be one to three milestones scoped per week, depending on the size of the team and the scope of the milestones.

Milestones should be used in conjunction with other tools, such as Kanban boards and Scrum boards, so everyone has visibility into what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. This transparency ensures that everyone is working towards the same goal and makes it easy to identify when something falls behind schedule.

How Does a Clean Development Board Help?

A clean development board (and well-defined milestones) allows you to see what needs to be done next. This ensures that the team is focused on the same objectives. Additionally, by having all objectives laid out in front of you, it becomes much easier to identify problems and potential roadblocks. 

What Are Some Ways to Keep My Development Board Clean? 

There are many ways you can keep your development board clean. Here are just a few: 

  • Use epics and tags to designate different types of tasks 
  • Avoid sub-tasks for actual work but instead use them for repetitive tasks that need to be done for every piece of work, like QA
  • Break down large tasks into smaller ones. Typically, a unit of work should be between 30 minutes and one day of effort
  • Conduct daily standups with the team to discuss progress and identify blockers
  • Groom the current sprint as well as the backlog at least once per week. Grooming the current sprint involves reviewing current tasks for out-of-date statuses, unneeded work and stalled tickets. Grooming the backlog should include reviewing the priority of tasks as well as identifying missing work or work that is no longer needed.

Ultimately, the primary goal of most software development management tools is to ensure that the various members of the team remain aligned. While a wide variety of methodologies and tools are available, the above guidelines will apply almost universally to all teams, projects, tools, and processes.

If you feel like your project is starting to lag or needs a shot in the arm, try reviewing your board and milestones with these guidelines and see if it starts to bring the team back into alignment.

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