When searching Kanban tools or alternative, you must have come across Trello. Trello, in its core, is a visual collaboration tool that utilizes the concept of boards. It’s a simple and effective tool to manage and organize tasks. Trello is aimed at teams as a tool for organizing tasks within a project. But it can also be used as a personal to do list. Due to its versatile nature, Trello is one of the most popular project management apps.
While Trello closely resembles a Kanban tool, and many consider it to be Kanban software, the questions that many ask is whether it really is one. Let’s look into it.
Setting Up a Trello Visual Board
At first glance, Trello seems to be a Kanban tool, suitable for creating your digital Kanban board. Trello offers plenty of functionalities to help manage your team. It uses lists and cards to map the flow. Share the lists and cards between teams and team members. Attach files and create checklists. Let’s go over each step of setting the Trello visual board, and make a step-by-step analysis to see if you can actually have a fully featured Kanban system.
Creating the Board
Creating your first Trello board is pretty simple. After you sign up, by clicking the + button you can create a new board. Choose the name for your board. Then, add lists that will serve as your task containers. In Kanban, the lists or columns, are used to represent the steps of your process. Depending on your process, you can add as many lists as you need. And of course, you can rename the lists to correspond to the action or step that a task needs to undergo to get from To Do to Done.
Populate the Board with Cards
Now that you have your project steps visualized, it’s time to add the Trello cards. Each card should represent one task or idea. You can then split bigger tasks into smaller components by adding a checklist to your card. And attach important files and documents to the card itself.
Place the cards in the list that shows the stage the task is in. Then assign the tasks to people responsible for completing them. You can invite team members or collaborators on your board so they can follow the project activity with you. Similarly to other project management tools, Trello has the option to add a due date to tasks. And then it will remind the assignees when the deadline is approaching and if it passes. You can also color-code and label cards. These features are very useful when you want to make it easier to distinguish between different types of tasks.
Since Trello uses the Kanban method as a basis, tasks move across lists according to their status. To move a task from one stage to the next, click-and-hold to drag it to the next list.
So far, it seems that Trello covers the basic Kanban tool features. We have a visual board, separated in columns, populated with cards.
Additional Kanban Concepts and Practices
To make the simple to-do list or a visual board an actual Kanban system, we need to add a few more things, defined by the key practices such as WIP limits, explicit policies or agreements. And of course, having the ability to track key metrics that enable continuous improvement, to make it a real Kanban tool.
Let’s see if Trello can do these things.
Setting WIP Limits
WIP limits are one of the main Kanban practices that distinguish this methodology from the other approaches and makes it so efficient. Kanban WIP limits ensure team members work at an optimal pace that does not exceed their capacity. Trello doesn’t offer this feature. Instead, you can add as many tasks as you want to any list on your board.
Making Process Policies Explicit
Another important aspect of a (digital) Kanban board is making policies explicit. The concept of making policies explicit is important if you want to improve the way your team works. Adding a short description for each column of what it means for cards to enter/exit that column provides clarity to everyone on the task and stage requirements. Again, Trello doesn’t offer this feature.
Measuring Throughput and Cycle Time
Two key metrics that enable delivering more value, removing waste and continuous improvement in Kanban are throughput and cycle time. They give teams a great insight into the process and allow them to track changes and make adjustments. Trello unfortunately doesn’t provide these metrics since anyone can make changes to the board. And there are no rules in these lists that capture this data.
Even though Trello can be considered a Kanban alternative, the tool is NOT a Kanban tool. While it uses some main Kanban concepts, like visualization, it lacks the ability to employ some of the key concepts and metrics of the said methodology. But, it is useful if you want to get a taste of Kanban’s visual system. Luckily, there are Kanban tools, like Kanban Zone, built on Kanban’s main principles and core practices to improve the way teams work and collaborate.