This note outlines a simple process for managing a backlog of work. It is basically a slimmed down version of Scrum. Or a mildly pimped up version of Kanban.

Who this is for

This process is best for small, multi-disciplinary teams who need a better way to manage their work. They probably have none to little existing process, like simple lists or shared documents. External folks are usually chucking in requests that are mounting up in a big, unprioritised list.

Bringing order to these teams is important for all the member’s sanity while bringing more predictability to everyone who depends on them.

The team’s unit of work: one week sprints

Sprints should last a week. It keeps momentum and people focused.

Two week sprints are great if you’re a mature team with good principles going deep on a multi-month projects. But it doesn’t work for small teams who want a simple process.

Everything is broken down into singular weeks. How did we do this week? What are we doing next week? Simple.

There’s no need for pointing or any of that agile stuff. It’s only a week, and team doing the planning is small. This means there is an instinctive sense of what can be achieved. When the work is broken down well, people can look at their work, think ahead and appreciate the size of it before committing.

The three boards

Managing backlog, up-next and in-progress items on one board is too much to manage.

Perhaps more can be achieved by a fancy tool but it’s usually better to use simple, accessible tools like Trello.

The roadmap board

The roadmap board looks at the next sprints. This is where we break down epics into work delivered week by week.

The roadmap board usually consists of these kinds of lists:

  • Epics one list with cards for each major epic the team are working. An epic is anything that takes multiple weeks to deliver, usually this is the stuff that people outside your team will have actually heard of. Link these cards to the high-level requirements. Can also create a label for an epic and assign it to the cards you create.
  • Backlogs work assigned to epics but not assign to a week yet. Also useful to create backlogs for Bugs or various house keeping tasks. Clean often otherwise they get too big and useless.
  • Future weeks these are are lists for specific weeks, such as “Feb 1-5”. Have at least 3 weeks in the future planned initially. Get better over time and be able to specify further out as you gain predictability.

Having this split out from the main active board is usually the thing that makes a team feel under control. Backlogs are not growing endlessly and the amount of in progress work is not overwhelming.

The active board

This board is the more familiar one you would expect, except it only contains now and next stuff. This turns it from a mess into something can see and then take care of.

Everything in this board should represent a weeks worth of work, that unit of work everyone understands.

The lists here are as you expect:

  • Todo / ready to start the tasks you’ve agreed to work on this week and no more. If you’re not working on it this week then take it off the board.
  • In Progress the tasks that are in progress, moved by the owners of the cards when they start them so others know they are being worked on
  • Blocked tasks that the owner cannot make progress on. This is bad. Deal with these ASAP and never let them back up.
  • Done tasks assigned in this week and completed this week

You can add other lists like “QA” or “testing” or “PR review” in this list as-well, if that works with your process. Keep these lists to a minimum. Just focus on easy flow from left to right and highlighting blockages.

The done board

This is the best board - every week move the “Done” list from your active board here.

Every now and then take a peek at this board and see how much you’ve done.

The PM, aka the card whisperer

To really make this work you’ll need someone who has the responsibility to keep the process moving. Resolving blockers, filling up future weeks and assigning owners.

Ideally, this will be someone with Product/Project Manager in their title. However it doesn’t always work out that way, especially in small teams.

Whomever it is, the person should be senior enough to know enough detail about each card to make priority decisions. This person should focus on flow, keeping the team delivering according to the whatever priority is at time. This person can then relay progress back to the wider business.