A team’s Agile board contains all of their work. It should be possible to look at the board to get a sense of what’s happening, such as the status of tasks, who’s working on what, and what’s been completed so far.

If the board is the master source for keeping track of how things are going, then everyone in the team needs to agree to keep it updated. The most basic steps are:

  • When a task is started, the person working on it self-assigns the task and moves it to “In progress”.
  • When a task is finished, the person marks the task as completed and/or moves it to “Done”.

How to do these will vary depending on the tool you use, but the basic approach should be the same. You’re making it possible to distinguish between tasks that are not started, tasks that are being worked on, and tasks that are done.

This clarity is important for a number of reasons:

  • It stops two people picking up the same task.
  • It helps when there are dependencies, as you can see when a dependency becomes unblocked.
  • It can help to surface work “not on the board”. If there no tasks assigned to a team member but they’re still working on something, that might be a sign that there’s a ticket you need to add to your board.
  • It allows the team to see at a glance how much they currently have in progress at a time. When there’s a lot of work in progress, sometimes it might be better to help someone finish an existing task than bring another new task into the mix.
  • It allows a Product Manager, Scrum Master, or Team Lead to assess whether something is “stuck” in the process, i.e. it’s been in progress for a lot longer than planned.

Getting more detail on work in progress

Being able to see what’s in progress is very useful. However, “in progress” isn’t always enough information on its own. While many teams are happy with a simple Kanban workflow (To do – In progress – Done), when working on larger tasks and larger teams, you may find yourself wanting more detail.

Posting notable updates on the ticket as a comment makes it easy to get more detail on how a task is progressing, beyond “it’s still in progress”.

Comments help the team in many ways:

  • Comments can be a great “single source of truth” for a task, so you don’t have to remember every update from the daily standup, or find every relevant comment on Slack.
  • Did a conversation turn into “let’s have a call”? Make sure to record the outcome of that call in a comment.
  • If someone is off sick or goes on holiday, being able to refer to their last update on a task is extremely helpful. It can also be a good way to remembering what happened before the weekend.
  • If a task is blocked, you can add a comment to say why it’s blocked, and point the team to it. Once the task is unblocked, you can add a further comment to say when/how it was unblocked. Don’t leave the team to guess why something’s blocked.
  • If a task is taking longer than expected, that can also be called out in the comments. Perhaps there’s an unexpected issue, or the task is much bigger or much more complex than initially thought. Or maybe there’s another task that needs completing first. All of this can be written in the comments.

In short – you should be able to glance at the board and see what status any task is in. And if you go into the comments section, you should be able to find out the latest status on a task that’s in progress. Having conversations to find this out is fine – but it’s better to minimise the amount of times you need to say the same thing. Save yourself some time – make the ticket the single source of truth, and make the board reflect reality.

In 2021, I’m trying to write more regularly on my blog – hopefully one post per week. See my progress so far here: Weekly blogging in 2021