Last Saturday, Zagreb had the great opportunity to gather our relatively small and disperse developers' community at a WebCamp ZG conference organized collaterally by all user groups active here. I had the opportunity to give a talk about organizing work in distributed teams with Kanban methodology, using Trello board as a supporting tool. After the talk, I was astonished by the number of questions that were really interesting and high quality, meaning people really got into the idea. I'll try to follow up on some here, together with feedback I got from Trello team regarding topics related to their product.
A Couple of Words About the Conference
But first, let me spend a couple of minutes to say how great it was to have such a conference in Zagreb. Although our user groups are really vivid and strong, the effort needed to organize a conference is much higher than gathering for a user group meeting. And it's more-less the same core people who are really active in these communities, so the great thing was they got their heads together and put up an event for around 240 people, for free.
The event was really great, many interesting people and many interested topics were presented. Still, one thing was easily noticeable - some of the speakers, although having an interesting topics, lacked the presenting skills to tell the great story - we definitely need more events of this kind on a regular basis, so we can all get better in presenting.
That detail wouldn't have been so obvious to me if I haven't had a chance to visit DIBI Conference in Newcastle this year, and FFWD.PRO, held in Zagreb, but having top level international speakers who do speaking gigs on a regular basis. Of course, it's not the idea to compare pro speakers with occasional or first time presenting people having a full-time job as developers & geeks, what I want to say is that we really can improve ourselves if we had the opportunity to speak more.
So - nothing personal there, it's just that becoming better speakers will open some doors outside of our local communities, and give us a chance to expand our horizons. Therefore, I really hope WebCamp ZG will become a regular event, maybe even more often than once a year. Once more - big thank you to the organizers who pulled it off for the first time this year.
Back on Track
Let's get back to the follow-up of the talk I gave. We had 25 minutes slots, and I hoped to have some time for questions, as the topic opens many different opportunities and possibilities, highly related to each particular team dynamics and relationships within the team. I've managed to finish in less than 20 minutes which allowed for almost 10 minutes Q&A session, which had to be cut off for the next speaker after spending almost full interchange break too.
I've received mainly two types of questions. One type was related team management in this kind of environment - who does what, when and why. The second one was the tooling - what Trello board offers for more advanced scenarios like metrics and reporting, and comparisons with other boards. I'll try to discuss some of the details that seemed interesting at the time, and deserve a bit more than said in the short time trying to answer as many questions as possible.
The initial question was a comparison between Trello board and dedicated boards for Kanban - JIRA having a Kanban board was mentioned as an example (actually, that'd probably be Atlassian's GreenHopper project), then there is AgileZen I know of… (and I've found a list of some more).
As I've said there - Trello is a generic board, probably non-comparable to dedicated boards. But, it's free for a start and trying out Kanban, and it's simple enough that it really doesn't have a learning curve, nor it gives a feeling (that some PM software do) that you have to fill-in a lot of data in it to have things looking right (a feeling I get when I need to use the above mentioned JIRA).
The discussion followed on in the right direction - probing the simplicity given by the tool, bringing up questions regarding metrics and reporting. One of the awesome ideas was the possibility of attaching ‘points' to cards in Trello, being able to get a team score and/or per person score at the end of the week or iteration. This still sounds like an awesome idea to me, and I forwarded it to the Trello team.
The other subset of questions was related to reporting - getting the data out of Trello, to produce either standalone reports, or bringing the data into some other software already used for tracking and reporting in the company.
Trello Team's Feedback
Before the conference, I have contacted Trello team so I've had a channel opened to communicate those things back to them. Regarding the reporting - I've got the following information back:
We do have an API - https://trello.com/docs/.
We've heard similar reporting requests in the past. We don't have any immediate plans to add it to Trello.
People want such a wide variety of reports that it's very difficult to build something simple that satisfies enough people. For the moment, we'll leave it up to developers to do their own reporting based on the API.
So, you can generate reports you need using the API. But, that's not all - the other very interesting information I got back from them is that there are some community-made tools out there already:
We have a "resources" board that includes a variety of things people have built using our API: https://trello.com/resources
I haven't had a chance to check everything that's in there - but take a look and maybe you'll find something that already solves your issue. If not, you can always use the API and make your reporting matching your needs. Of course, it includes putting up some of your own resources into it (or you might pick up some dedicated Kanban board if you're sure you want to dig in deeper from the first moment).
The other type of questions regarding team management is more or less answered in the session -agile methodologies require teams that are able to self-manage at least on some level. Slight variations are possible, PM can be involved up to some level, but if a team isn't responsible to itself, it's not Kanban, nor Scrum that can solve that issue. Those methodologies can support a process, but can't define a team culture.
Still, I'm really looking forward to meeting some people who have expressed their interest in discussing Kanban principles and approach further, as well as exchange experiences about other project management methodologies they've tried in their teams - mainly Scrum which I haven't had a chance to work with myself.
I'm really happy that the topic raised such an interest among the people visiting the conference. I've made slides available at SpeakerDeck, and conference videos shall be also made available at some point (for all international readers, I'm sorry, it's in Croatian).
Sharing your experiences at conferences is a great way to get connected to people who are willing to discuss and share their experiences back with you. I can't wait for the next WebCamp ZG, but also hoping that communities in the neighbourhood will grow their own.
Knowledge is multiplying by sharing, we can all grow from that.