A survey of the kanban tools I use

In a previous post about distinguishing between tasks and projects, I made a brief mention of the different kanban tools I use with a promise to go into further depth. Here is the depth. This post is more about the tools I use and the context in which I use them as opposed to the specific design of the boards themselves.

Trello

Trello is the gold standard when it comes to kanban. It’s free to use (although I’ve paid for a business subscription in the past), has a useful mobile app, and focuses on being good at being a kanban board. Trello was the first kanban board I used and it became my default. I use it to track article ideas for this blog, plan meals, and track online orders.

I wouldn’t mind switching to another tool, just to have one less place to track work, but there are a few things that keep me around. The mobile app is the biggest. Trello’s mobile app works really well. It doesn’t have the full feature set of the web app, but it’s enough to be productive. I’m also a big fan of the calendar view. This helps me plan time-based work like blog posts and dinners. Combined with labels, the calendar view makes it really easy to see if I’m being too repetitive. I also like that Trello makes a visual distinction between complete and incomplete when displaying dates. Relatedly, the package tracking plugin is really nice, too. Plug in a tracking number and the estimated delivery date displays on the card as if it were a due date. The last feature that I love is the automation. I only use it on my writing board, but it comes in handy. I have a rule that when I set a due date on a card, it gets moved from “Ideas” to “Planned”. There’s another one that will mark a card as done when I move it to the “Scheduled” column.

Trello also has a good blog if you’re into that sort of thing.

Todoist

I switched to Todoist when I couldn’t put off migrating away from Wunderlist any longer. As the name implies, it’s primarily a todo list manager (and a darn good one at that), but it recently added support for kanban boards. To try it out, I converted my “laundry” category to a board. It works okay for that purpose.

The mobile app is great for the todo side, but the boards are a little buggy (although the same is true for the web app). Cards don’t always want to move to the column you’re trying to drag them to. But my biggest gripe is that there’s currently no way to cleanly handle recurring tasks. For example, my laundry board is broken out by load (e.g. whites, pants, towels), with tasks scheduled to recur every two weeks. When I mark a task done, I’d like the new incarnation to start in the “dirty” column. Ideally, moving a task to the “folded” column would automatically mark it done.

I’ve found myself using the board feature less and less with my laundry. The issues above combined with the fact that the state is readily apparent means it doesn’t have a lot of value. I like Todoist overall, so I wish I had more reason to use the board feature.

Taiga

I actually use two different Taiga instances: Fedora’s and the public instance. In the Fedora instance, I have a board where I track all of my work as Fedora Program Manager, as well as using it collaboratively with other teams. On the public instance, I’m currently only using it to track progress on my book.

Taiga is designed to be a full-featured project management tool, which gives it a leg up in some ways. User stories on the kanban board can have child tasks with their own state, which is helpful when i need to decompose work. It also has a module for epics, which is useful for aggregating larger work. As an example, I have a card for each chapter on my book board. When my editor gives me things to fix, I add those as tasks. Each of the milestones that the publisher has in their process is an epic.

There are two missing features that keep from moving to Taiga as my main kanban tool. The first is the lack of a calendar view. This would be particularly for the Fedora Magazine editorial board. The second is a sub-optimal (read: basically unusable) mobile experience. I don’t manipulate my boards on my phone a ton, but I do enough that it would be hellish. There are some third-party apps, but they can’t connect via Fedora’s authentication system, so they don’t help me.

I’d also like the ability to mark specific user stories as private, although I concede that doesn’t make a ton of sense in the context of what it’s intended for.

GitHub, GitLab, and Pagure

I combined these three because they’re basically the same to me: nice additions to issue tracking tools. I wouldn’t use either of them primarily as a kanban tool, but it comes in handy as a layer on the primary purpose. GitHub allows you to add both issues and non-issue cards to a board, which has resulted in a very confused me on several occasions. Pagure does not appear to have this problem. I’ve used GitLab’s board feature a little bit, but I don’t feel I’m familiar enough to comment on it.

2 thoughts on “A survey of the kanban tools I use

  1. This was a helpful overview, thanks for the write-up Ben!

    The lack of a mobile interface for Taiga (and the paid third-party app for the public Taiga instance) are lackluster. This would make Taiga way more accessible for me. I used to use Trello but made a concerted effort to migrate my personal board to Taiga. Sometimes there are pain points. I found myself conceding with most of your points on Trello, Taiga, and GitHub/Pagure/GitLab.

  2. Nice Review. Reading this I was envious of your packaging tracking board. My local providers are not supported by Shippo 🙁

    I’d also love a peek at your writing board to see if there are process ideas I could steal.

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