The Scrum process requires, really more than anything, a visual presence of tasks in progress. Non-distributed Scrum teams have the luxury of a central, physical board to keep track of stories and sprints, but distributed teams face a challenge—how do we make our Scrum board visible, but also unified?
Our team has tried a number of things—from online project management apps, to simply taking a picture of our physical Scrum board and sending it out to the team so that they could update their physical board to match.
That didn’t work so well.
Absence of a centralized Scrum board (whether physical or digital) causes confusion and divides in the team. However, digital tools can hinder progress. Tasks are easier to ignore and velocity slows when things fall off the table. Using a digital tool requires more intentionality on the part of the team.
Although a physical Scrum board can help a lot of teams boost productivity, productivity relies even more heavily on team unity. By far the best online tool we have used to achieve both visibility and unity is Trello.
We really like Trello first and foremost because of how much it already looks like our physical Scrum board. It’s extremely customizable as far as columns and labels go. Boards can be built based on project, or for a whole department’s ongoing workload. It’s packed full of features, like…
- Unlimited lists (columns) per board (so far as we can tell, we haven’t reached a limit yet)
- Color labeling
- Due dates
- Checklists within “cards”
- Integration with google drive
- Assigning tasks
However, with all these possibilities comes great responsibility. Setting up the board–anticipating our future needs and deciding how to include wildcard items that don’t fit nicely into our regular sprint cycle–took some serious thought and effort. We discovered that if we used the most straightforward approach, we would lose some of the features that made us move to Trello in the first place. (For instance, we tried creating a card for a user story, and then putting all of the essential tasks onto a checklist on that one card. Setting up like this meant we could not assign specific items to individual team members. In Trello you can assign members to cards, but not to specific items on a checklist.)
In the end we came up with a system we really liked. Below is our personal solution to using Trello for Scrum:
Board set up:
The Trello board is made up of several lists. Each list contains cards. Cards can contain checklists, comments, link to files, etc. Each of our lists has a purpose:
- Product Backlog—The Product Backlog list will hold Epics and User Stories that the Product Owner has not yet moved to the Sprint Backlog list. Stories will be transferred to the Sprint Story Backlog based on order of priority.
- Sprint Backlog—Once the Product Owner moves a user story to the Sprint Story Backlog list, it will…
- Be labeled a certain color.
- Have a clear description.
- The team will create a checklist of each task that must be done for the story to be complete.
- Not started tasks—In sprint planning, the team will examine each Story in the Backlog list, and decide which tasks they are able to complete during the sprint. The team will create a new card for each chosen task, which will…
- Have a color label which matches the corresponding story.
- Have an assigned owner.
- Begin in the Not Started Tasks list.
- In Progress Tasks—Any sprint items that are in progress will stay in the In Progress list until completed.
- Finished Tasks—Finished task cards will stay in the Finished Tasks list until the sprint is complete. At the end of the sprint, finished task cards will be archived. When an entire Story is completed, the Story will also be archived.
- Ongoing—Ongoing tasks can be put into the Ongoing list. Each card can either be a single task, or contain a checklist with a series of tasks. In the case of checklists, the list must be completed each sprint, and then reset at the beginning of every sprint. If an owner of a large task (such as a blog entry) wishes to, he/she may make a separate card to move across the scrum board for that sprint.