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Agile Boards for the Enterprise

“Stop starting and start finishing” — this famous slogan is basically the magic of Kanban in a nutshell. Kanban — which literally means visual signaling — is a method to help organizations control and manage work in progress.

Thanks to agile frameworks such as Kanban or Scrum, the software industry managed to drastically reduce the running times in many projects, while improving collaboration, transparency and the visibility of work items. The global success of agile methods also leveraged their main means of visualization — agile boards.

Ironically, some practitioners in the software industry might not even be aware that the original ideas of organizing work items in a Kanban structure originally come from the Japanese automotive industry.

It is therefore no surprise that we find Scrum-like work rituals (like daily standup meetings or time boxing) on the shop-floor of automotive manufacturing, where team members often still work with physical boards and track work items with cards or post-its.

Boards are a great way to visualize, structure, cluster, prioritize and discuss work throughout the entire project lifecycle and a great way to track work items, progress and completion.

For many organizations, a digital board is a great starting point to dip into agile work processes. Those organizations that have so far relied on physical card and post-it boards are looking to adopt digital boards as well.

Choosing the Right Digital Board

Selecting the right provider for your digital board may not be as easy as it seems. When selecting a board for a small number of small teams in a not very large organization the main criteria will be price, ease of deployment, and functional simplicity that does not require training or customization. Many organizations will choose a readily available and easy to use offering such as Asana or Trello.

When it comes to selecting a provider for the enterprise, the picture changes significantly. Deploying agile boards across the large enterprise results in a number of key requirements:

Large boards

Using a simple board with tasks and status columns is easy enough when you have a couple dozen tasks to manage. In many applications, the number of tasks can easily reach several hundred. The normal visualization breaks down. You need advanced filtering mechanisms to focus on the tasks relevant to a person or a group. Alternative visualizations can help deal with a large number of items, for example displaying all tasks in a table listing, and using search, sorting, and filtering to quickly zero in on the tasks of interest.

Dozens and hundreds of boards

Once you start spreading the practice across the organization, you may well end up with many hundreds of boards. You will need advanced functionality to customize and replicate best practice templates, manage users and groups and access rights, and housekeeping tools to identify and archive / discard unused boards or to split and merge boards.

Dealing with dependencies and planning coordinated solution delivery

Agile teams in enterprise-class companies build solutions in the broader context. Recently, processes to organize and orchestrate multiple agile teams in enterprises, such as LeSS, Scrum@Scale or SAFe® have been introduced to support critical collaboration between teams. Boards offer crucial added value if they enable joint planning or facilitate the identification of risks that simultaneously affect several agile teams.

Business logic and organizational awareness

No matter how agile the teams, in the enterprise, there are many layers of organization that are equally important. Real world requirements include managing user groups, acting on behalf of a colleague, requiring sign-off for a status change, or escalating important tasks to the attention of senior management.

User experience optimized for the type of user

While team members in the daily Scrum meeting benefit greatly from the familiar “tasks on a board” user experience, other user roles may require different visualizations: A project management office will want to see a tabular interface for the many boards and tasks that they support. A scheduling manager may want to see the tasks aligned on a timeline in the familiar Gantt format. Executive management may prefer a management dashboard view, where essential KPIs, project status and blocked tasks are identified clearly.

Functional extension and integration

The work items tracked on the agile board do not exist in isolation. In the real world, they may be connected to milestones in the project scheduling process of the enterprise, they may represent issues and mitigations tracked in a corporate risk management system, there may be connections to the enterprise product portfolio planning process. An ideal agile board solution will either provide a framework for functional extension of the board application and/or offer tooling for the integration of the board items with external systems and applications.

Empowering collaboration even across companies

Global competition, drastically reduced cycle times, and the digital transformation of all products and services make frictionless planning and agile execution across company boundaries a must-have capability for global high-tech leaders. So, work items need to be managed not just within business units or teams, but also outside the company boundaries in collaboration with suppliers, customers, or joint ventures.

Documentation of all actions

Companies increasingly require an exhaustive documentation of information flow and decision making in order to satisfy growing requirements for ensuring compliance with national and international regulations. For example, documentation requirements that are commonplace in the pharma industry, are now being adopted in the automotive industry, as systems for autonomous driving need to be certified by regulatory agencies.

Data security and GDPR compliance

Depending on the nature of your data, you may want to make sure that your service provider has a strong GDPR capability and/or that you have the option to host the board solution at a provider of your choice, including your own data center.

Recommendation

Selecting an agile board solution for the enterprise should be an informed decision. Take a look at the requirements discussed here and determine which apply to your enterprise. A board solution that is engineered for a large enterprise will help you realize the value of transforming the way you work and set you up on the path towards becoming a truly agile business.

Learn more about our apps and solutions for agile and collaborative work here.

Written by Navid Eskandari-Azari, Product Manager at collaboration Factory AG.

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collaboration Factory AG

collaboration Factory AG

collaboration Factory AG is the company behind cplace, and helps companies to successfully manage complex business processes.