When Kanban Can't: Why I Built Disco to Replace Trello & Jira

Adriaan Mulder // February 26, 2020

While Kanban boards are great in some situations, I'm going to give a pretty basic example of why they don't work well for big projects that involve many people and processes. Then I'll show how these issues are solved with Disco.

Suppose we're building an app for playing podcasts. Let's start with a few basic tasks: signup, login, and search.

Looks great right now, but each of these tasks will need wireframes, design, backend, and frontend work. So we'll need to break each of these tasks up into four separate tasks.

The backend developer sees the "Search for podcasts" task and —realizing this is a very big task— breaks it into a few separate tasks.

Yikes, things are looking busy, and we only have 3 real tasks in there.

Looking at our columns, we have backlog, to-do, in progress, and done. But tasks can have more statuses than that, there could be a column for code review, another for quality assurance (QA), another for when the code is launched to the staging environment, and another for the production environment. But some of those statuses don't make sense for design tasks, so you can either add columns that design tasks skip, or skip those columns entirely.

As cards are moved around, the relationship between tasks is mostly lost. In order for anyone to find out the progress of "signup", they'll need to do a text search and see which column each card is in. If the backend developer who split a task into smaller pieces didn't keep some naming convention this becomes even more difficult.

Here's how the same project looks in Disco.

It kind of looks like the Kanban board did in the very first step, but this is including all the other requirements that made the Kanban board a big mess. The three main tasks are still obvious.

Design tasks have a unique process completely separate from development tasks, and there are tasks specifically for QA which can be assigned to specific QA people.

The backend developer can break a task into multiple tasks without adding noise to the root of the project.

And, finally, when the project is underway, things don't become messier. Related tasks stay together. Checking the progress of a task is as simple as looking at the progress bar next to it. Grey is todo, blue is in progress, and green is done.

If you want more detail you simply expand the task.

So this is why I got fed up with Kanban boards and built Disco. I'm sure many of the issues I brought up with Kanban boards can be overcome with added features or alternative strategies, but in my opinion Kanban boards just aren't the right paradigm for managing big complex projects.

If you strongly agree or disagree with me, I'd love to hear from you. For general comments I'll probably be sharing this blog post on HackerNews and Reddit. Cheers!