What do columns mean - workflow or team members - in Kanban?



  • Let's say we have a team consisting of a developer and a tester. And we have a Kanban board consisting of "Development(WIP=1)", "Testing(WIP=1)", "Done" columns.

    When the developer has implemented a task he moves it to the "Testing" column.

    Everything is OK so far.

    But tester can also write new tests. Should he put this task in "Development" column?

    If yes, then the tester can be working on two tasks at the same time despite the WIP = 1 (one task in "Development" column and one task in "Testing" column).

    If no, then a Kanban board represents the division of a team into developers, testers etc, but not a team's workflow.



  • I think it is easier to answer your question if we separate out some of the topics.

    First, the columns on the board, represent the workflow of items. So, if the steps for delivering an item are development and testing, then an item in the development column is under development and an item in the testing column is currently being tested. From a kanban board standpoint, what team member is doing the work is completely irrelevant.

    Next, let's talk about WIP. If the WIP for both columns is 1, then there can never be more than one task in either column. This is good from a flow standpoint. Any bottlenecks or impediments will become immediately apparent. On the other hand, it is very inflexible. A long-running test would immediately block the system. However, there are other ways of applying WIP. For example, you could apply a WIP of 2 to the whole process, which would give you just a bit more flexibility.

    Finally, you mention that when the developer is done developing, they would put the card in the testing column. This is a subtle thing, but this is incorrect. The card moves when the work on the next step starts, not when the current step finishes. It may seem like semantics, but it results in very different team behaviors.



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