How Do YOU Kanban? A Simple Guide to Using Kanban with Trello

Trello Kanban Board Basics

The Kanban methodology, so effectively used by Toyota in the 1960s, is all about improving the processes of getting work done while boosting quality and productivity. What started as a car factory system 60 years ago has turned into a productivity solution for businesses of all types, from retail to software development.

At Hubstaff we use Trello to implement Kanban for nearly every project we undertake. We also recommend the tool to companies of all sizes. In this post I’ll tell you why we use it, and show you how to set it up.

What Kanban is all about

Translated from Japanese, Kanban means “signboard.” The idea behind Kanban is simple yet profound. As completing a project involves passing through certain steps, this agile system focuses on the different stages of the process and the quality of their execution rather than deadlines only.

The Kanban method is highly visual and aims to illustrate each stage within a process and the interconnectedness between them. Even though it doesn’t focus on due dates, it improves productivity and the quality of the result.

The basic structure of the Kanban system is a board. The board is split into different lists that represent the consecutive stages of completing the work. Within each list are cards. These are the smallest work units, or simply put, your team’s tasks.

The Kanban process, in essence, is moving a card (a single task) from left to right on the board. On the left-most side is the To Do list – and you gradually push the task to completion until it reaches the Done list. Because the board offers a clear overview of all tasks and their progress, it’s easy to see where any work gets stalled.

Why Trello is a good choice for Kanban

Trello is a project management tool perfectly suited for applying the Japanese methodology to your workflow. It offers a highly visual way to organize your team’s work so that nothing slips through and gets forgotten about or blocked.

You can create separate boards for each of your projects, or dedicate a board to different sets of activities that your team needs to execute. Within the board you can create all the lists you need.

In the case of a Trello Kanban board, this means you can easily set up a series of lists that signify the different steps a task needs to undergo to get done. You can also name the lists according to priority areas and time sensitivities.

Trello Kanban board

Setting up Kanban with Trello

Below we’ll use our Trello account and the Hubstaff Blog board as an example when showing you how to set up Kanban with Trello.

  1. After signing up for Trello, set up your workspace or project board. Do this by clicking on the button in the top right of your main dashboard and selecting Create Board…trello-create-board-option
  2. Name your board based on the specific activity you would like to manage. In our case we want to manage content creation for our blog:create-board-title-trello
  3. Create your workflow with lists. Lists are stage-based containers of all tasks. The first list can be used as a repository for important documentation. You can add another one where you can store all task ideas that are not currently set in motion.For the Hubstaff Blog board we have two lists that come before the action steps:docs-and-ideas-trelloAfter creating lists for documentation, ideas, or other things that aren’t action steps, create lists that match the consecutive steps that a task needs to undergo to get from To Do to Done.

    This is what they look like for us:

    hubstaff-blog-trello-action-steps

  4. Add cards (tasks). To do this click the three-dotted “option” button in the top right of the list:list-option-button-trelloJust remember that one card equals one task. This is essential for making Kanban work with Trello.
  5. Assign tasks. One of the features that makes a Trello Kanban board actionable is the option to assign tasks to people. You can invite team members or other collaborators on your board, then they will be able to follow all activity within it.To invite someone to your board, click the Show Menu link in the top right part of your board. Then click the Add Members… button:add-members-menuEnter the person’s email address in the field that appears.

    After they join your board, add them as a “Member” to the card/task you want to assign to them:

    add-board-member

  6. Define due dates. To make sure tasks get done on time, you can set the due date and time on the card. Trello will remind the members whenever the deadline is approaching and if it passes.To assign a due date, open a card and click the Due Date button on the right-hand side. After you assign a due date, click Save.
  7. Color-code and label your cards. To create a label, click the Show Menu link in the top right part of your board. Then click the More option and select Labels. Here you will see an option that says Create a new label.Name your label and assign a color to it:color-code-label-trelloWhen you create the labels you want, you can assign a label to a card by opening the card and selecting the Label option on the right-hand side.
  8. Create checklists and subtasks within tasks. Within each card you can create subtasks in the form of a checklist. This is helpful for keeping track of different stages of completion for a large task. It’s also helpful when different subtasks need completed by different people.To create a checklist, open a card and click the Checklist button on the right-hand side.
  9. Move cards across lists. To follow Kanban in Trello, you must update the status of your tasks. This can easily be completed by clicking a card, holding down on it, and dragging it to the next list.moving-cards-in-trello

So, how do you Kanban?

If you have a different application you use for implementing the Japanese productivity methodology, we’d love to hear about it in the comments below.

After all, there’s no one way to Kanban.