Now that you have a high-level understanding of the workflow building blocks, and you have a workflow blueprint in hand, let’s talk about how work flows inside boards, and potentially between them.
The Baseline Workflow
As we discussed in Chapter 1, a state-machine workflow is most likely going to be your default, go-to workflow. It’s the most flexible workflow option, so much so that we created a baseline workflow which we use here at Rindle, and recommend to our customers, based on a state machine workflow.
Here’s what Rindle’s baseline workflow looks like:
This is a great baseline because it provides steps to help process and organize work. Since it’s a fairly generic baseline, it can be used for almost any type of work or project. When considering where to start on your Rindle board, this baseline workflow will give you a solid foundation and may even be the workflow you end up using.
Let’s break down each list in the baseline workflow.
This list will store all of the work that your team needs to get done. Typically, this is where tasks start in the workflow. The Backlog is usually prioritized top to bottom.
By prioritizing the work top to bottom, it's easy for the entire team to see what's next to be worked on, as the next task is always at the top of the Backlog.
This list will house tasks that are currently being worked on. Tasks should only be moved from the Backlog to In Progress when they are actually being worked on, not when they are planned to be worked on. If it's not actively being worked on, it should remain in the Backlog.
This list will help your team separate tasks that have outside dependencies holding up progress. By moving it out of In Progress to Blocked, it visually sets the task apart so the entire team knows which tasks are Blocked.
Adding a comment to the blocked task is a great practice so everyone knows why it’s blocked and what is needed to unblock it. Using @mentions in your comments let’s you notify specific people who might need to know or get involved with the blocked task.
If your team performs daily stand-ups or any kind of status meeting, this is a perfect time to discuss items that are blocked, and get updates on when those blockers will be removed. The Blocked list allows you to easily reference these issues without having to sift through various lists and tasks.
When the task is no longer blocked, it should move back to In Progress to be completed.
This list is exactly as described. When a task is complete, it should move to the Done list. The completed tasks typically live in the Done list for a period of time before being archived.
So your workflow in your Rindle board will look like this:
Work Flows Left to Right
The lists described above will flow left to right: Backlog on the far left and Done on the far right. In the same manner, tasks will flow through lists from left to right.
- All new tasks get added to the bottom of the Backlog.
- Tasks get pulled from Backlog to In Progress and assigned to a team member when they are ready to be worked on.
- If there is something holding up a task, it gets moved to Blocked and a comment is added to the task explaining why it is blocked.
- When Blocked tasks have been resolved, the tasks move back to In Progress.
- When the task is complete, it moves to Done.
By moving tasks through the workflow from left to right, everyone on the board will have instant visual feedback as to how many tasks still need to be worked on, which tasks are in progress and who's working on them, which tasks are blocked and need attention, and which tasks have been completed.
This makes status meetings and stand-ups run smoothly. Everyone is collaborating in one place and seeing the same workflow, which makes discussing tasks and issues more clear and concrete during meetings.
Other Lists to Consider
Outside of the baseline workflow suggested above, there are some other lists that you should consider based on your needs.
If you have a step in your workflow that requires review or approval by another person before the task can be considered complete, a Review list could be just what you need.
Examples of this could be a manager's approval, proofing for copy, or quality control for an app feature. You can tweak the name, if needed, to Approval, Proof, or QA if that makes more sense. This list would typically come after In Progress and/or Blocked, like this:
Sometimes you need to track things in a project that aren't necessarily tasks, but references to information or documentation. Adding a Resources list to the right-most list position will give you a special place to track these resources, separate from tasks, that the entire team can see and use.
Typically items at the top of the Backlog are next up to be worked on, but sometimes you want to clearly see the next set of priorities. Creating an Up Next list to the right of the Backlog will give you the perfect staging area to make it crystal clear to your team which tasks should be worked on next.
Doing this also serves as a perfect holding area to delegate tasks to your team. Some teams will pull tasks from the Backlog individually and assign them to themselves, whereas other teams utilize a PM to delegate tasks out. If the latter is how you work, the Up Next list will allow the PM to assign tasks to the team without cluttering up the Backlog.
Defining a Custom Workflow
There will be times when the baseline workflow either won’t apply, or it’s not enough. Maybe your workflow is complex, or maybe you have a custom sequence that you have to piece together for your workflow. A custom workflow could apply to any of the previously discussed structures:
- State machine workflows
- Sequential workflows
- Rules-Driven workflows
- Personal tasks, task lists & repositories
- Hub & Spoke Model for workflows & projects
Whatever the scenario, we recommend creating a workshop environment with your team to extract your process in a collaborative environment. With your team, grab an hour in a meeting room with your workflow blueprints in hand, a white board, and some sticky notes to discuss your workflow. Ask yourselves:
“What are the steps in our workflow?”
As you answer this question, you will likely discuss the steps in your workflow in some detail. Write them down as you go, and begin to piece together your team’s custom workflow.
How Many Lists Should I Use?
A great baseline to shoot for is no more than six or seven lists. If you use every single list discussed above, you would be at seven. When you get beyond this number, the workflow starts to feel more complex to use than it should. Most screens will have to be scrolled to see certain lists, and tasks are generally harder to see and track.
That said, your workflow should consist of as many lists as you need. More complex workflows may justify more than six or seven lists, and simple workflows may justify fewer. So use what you need... no more, no less. 😃
Here's what all seven lists look like:
Where to Apply the Baseline Workflow
The reason we consider this the Baseline Workflow is because it’s flexible and can be used for practically any type of board that you create.
You’ll find that the baseline workflow works well in any state-machine workflow application. This can be a workflow, project, Hub & Spoke Model, or personal tasks board.
For example, you may have a sequential workflow that’s part of a Hub & Spoke Model. The hub could be the sequential workflow and the spokes could be baseline workflows. Or you could use the baseline workflow for your next website design project, software product, or personal tasks board.
There are three scenarios where the baseline workflow may not work well:
- Sequential workflows
- Rules-driven workflows
- Non-workflows like vertical checklists or task lists (work is not moving)
Sequential and rules-driven workflows typically require a custom workflow as they follow very specific steps or business rules unique to your team or organization.
Updating Your Workflow Blueprints
Once you have identified whether you are going to use baseline workflows, custom workflows, or a combination of the two for each board in your structure, update your workflow blueprints accordingly.
You can use the following to identify the type of workflow you will use on each board: