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Visualizing Agile Projects with Kanban Boards

Kanban Board as Primary Information

In short, there are many types of visualizations:

  • Kanban Boards. Use a card as a token (Kanban) of a task, story, feature, and stick them to a timeline (board). There are several levels of granularities.
  • Burndown Charts. Count the number of Kanbans (backlog tasks) and track it in a timebox to show the trend of backlogs being consumed. There are also several levels of granularities.
  • Parking lot Charts. Summarize the top-level project status.
  • Calendars. Other than Niko-niko calendars, there are a lot of variations of using calendars to show project status or plan.

Among Kanban Boards, Burndown Charts, and Parking Lot Charts, Kanban Boards have the most detailed information. Burndown Charts and Parking Lot Charts can be drawn using the information of daily changing Kanban Boards. So hereafter I'll discuss Kanban Boards as main information radiators, and Burndown Charts and Parking lot Charts as sub-tools which summarize Kanbans visually.

Organizing Kanbans from Three Perspectives

Looking closely at Kanban Boards, you find three things expressed on them -- time, task, and team. Here I organize Kanbans from these three viewpoints:

Figure 6: Breakdown of Time and Task.

  • Time. In agile projects, time of a project is first broken into "Releases" and each release into "Iterations", and each iteration into "Days". A release is typically 1- to 6-month long and is the most coarse-grained timebox. It is a sync point of the whole team so everyone in the whole team should be interested in it. An iteration is the second level timebox. It is typically 1- to 4-week long and development teams use it as a major working, tracking and improvement cycle. And everyday is the most fine-grained timebox, the team gets together in a stand-up meeting to share project status and problems.
  • Task. There are also three levels "Tasks" in granularity. Here I call the top level "Features" and each feature is broken down into "Stories", and each story into the lowest level "Tasks". A feature is a function useful meaningful to users. A story is a testable piece of a feature, also described by words of users. And a task is a work unit of a story, commonly described by words of developers.
  • Team. A project team consists of people working toward the same goal. Typically, a manager, customers, developers, business analysts, users, testers and other stakeholders should be members of the team. The whole team should share information of time and task to achieve the project goal.

Mapping Task to Time

Here I'd like to define a Kanban Board as a mapping between tasks and time for the team. Note that "time" and "task" both have a three-level breakdown structure, and the higher the breakdown levels are, the higher the level of management should get involved in. So, it is reasonable to set up Kanbans in combination of Release-Feature, Iteration-Story, and Daily-Task as in Table 1, although there are many possible other combinations of time and task.

Table 1: Kanban combination of Time and Task

A "Feature Kanban" is good at giving the whole team a high-level view of the project. And it goes with a Parking Lot Chart to show the top level status. A "Story Kanban" is at the middle level, the most widely and carefully seen in each iteration by the team, and it may be supported by an iteration Burndown Charts. A "Task Kanban" is at the lowest level, showing the current changing status daily, may be supported by a daily Burndown Chart.

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