Split columns on your Kanban board to show work in progress

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You use your Kanban board to visualize the flow of work, and monitor how items are or aren't progressing. Because each column corresponds to a stage of work, you can quickly see the number of items in progress at each stage.

However, a lag often exists between when work gets moved into a column and when work actually starts. To counter that lag and reveal the actual state of work in progress, you can turn on split columns.

When split, each column contains two subcolumns, Doing and Done.

Kanban with split columns

Split columns let your team implement a pull mechanism within the workflow process. Without split columns, teams push work forward, to signal that they've completed their stage of work. However, pushing it to the next stage doesn't necessarily mean that a team member immediately starts work on that item.

By contrast, with split columns, your team knows exactly how many items sit idle, waiting for work to begin. You now have greater visibility into the quantity of items that sit idle at each stage throughout your workflow process.

Prerequisites

  • You must have a Kanban board you want to configure. When you add a team, you add a Kanban board for that team. To learn more, see About teams and Agile tools.
  • To configure team settings, you must be added to the team administrator role or be a member of the Project Administrators security group. To get added, see Add a team administrator or Change project-level permissions.
  • Users assigned Basic access or higher can exercise all backlog and board features.
  • Users assigned Stakeholder access have limited access to backlog and board features. Stakeholders can edit work items on the board and add existing tags to a work item. They can't add work items to a board and can't update fields displayed on cards. For details, see About access levels.
  • You must have a Kanban board you want to configure. When you add a team, you add a Kanban board for that team. To learn more, see About teams and Agile tools.
  • To configure team settings, you must be added to the team administrator role or be a member of the Project Administrators security group. To get added, see Add a team administrator or Change project-level permissions.
  • Users assigned Basic access or higher can exercise all backlog and board features.
  • Users assigned Stakeholder access have limited access to backlog and board features. Stakeholders can edit work items on the board and add existing tags to a work item. They can't add work items to a board, can't drag-and-drop work items to update status or reorder cards, and can't update fields displayed on cards. For details, see About access levels.

Move items into the Doing and Done columns

With split columns turned on, you update status of items on the Kanban board in the same way you have before. However, now when you've completed work on an item, you move it into Done, instead of a downstream column. When the next team member becomes free to work on the next high priority item, they pull it into Doing and reassigns it to themself.

For example, as a team member completes their coding task, they move the item into Done under the Develop column. When the tester is ready to test the item, they pull it into Doing under the Test column.

Kanban board showing split column

If you're new to Kanban, review Kanban basics to get an overview of how to access your board and implement Kanban.

Identify bottlenecks to drive toward a perfect flow scenario

How can you use split columns to improve workflow?

Split columns provide you even greater insight into how many items sit idle in a Done column. Your team can readily see when items pile up, which signal a potential bottleneck.

Kanban board, split columns showing stacked items

By reviewing the frequency of pile ups and where they occur, your team can adjust their processes to eliminate the bottlenecks. Workflow processes that incur no or few bottlenecks correspond to perfect flows. No item sits in a queue for any

Choose which columns you want to split

Now that you understand how your team can use split columns, here's how to turn them on. Before you split columns, you'll want to have mapped each stage of your team's process to a Kanban column.

Only split columns where clear hand-offs exist and you want teams to pull the item into the next stage.

  1. Open your Kanban board. If you're not a team admin, get added as one. Only team and project admins can customize the Kanban board.

  2. Choose the gear icon to configure the board and set general team settings.

    Open board settings for a team, vert nav

  3. Choose Columns and then choose the column tab that you want to split. Place a check in the checkbox to cause the column to split.

    Note

    You'll see different column titles and choices based on the process used to create your project and whether your team has chosen to treat bugs like requirements or like tasks.

    Kanban board settings dialog, Split columns

  4. When done with your changes, choose Save.

    Tip

    You can filter queries and create charts using the Board Column Done field.

  1. Open your Kanban board. If you're not a team admin, get added as one. Only team and project admins can customize the Kanban board.

  2. Choose gear icon to open the common configuration settings dialog for the Kanban board.

    Kanban board, open common configuration settings

  3. Choose Columns and then choose the column tab that you want to split. Place a check in the checkbox to cause the column to split.

    Note

    You'll see different column titles and choices based on the process used to create your project and whether your team has chosen to treat bugs like requirements or like tasks.

    Kanban board settings dialog, Split columns

  4. When done with your changes, choose Save.

    Tip

    You can filter queries and create charts using the Board Column Done field.

List work items in a Doing or Done column

You can query for work items in a split column using the Board Column Done field. This field takes of a value of False when in the Doing column and True when in the Done column.

For examples on querying Board columns, see Query by assignment or workflow changes