Upgrading My Kanban Experience in Microsoft Teams

KanBo board with conversation

When I launched CollabTalk as an independent research and technical marketing services company on January 1st of this year – building on a 5-year-old brand that I had built around open, community-based conversations on all-things collaboration – I decided to leverage Microsoft Teams as my primary platform. As the CollabTalk team continues to grow, I have been trying to use Planner to manage team tasks around customer projects, with limited success. I’m not knocking Planner – it’s a decent tool, but when you’ve used more robust, feature-rich solutions, it can be difficult to step backward to simple tools.

As some of you know, for more than a decade I specialized in project and portfolio management solutions, and building out project management organizations (PMOs) as a consultant. In fact, trying to make Project Server work for a customer (unsuccessfully, I might add) was my first real experience deploying SharePoint. I ended up catching the SharePoint fever and joining Microsoft – and brought my complaints for Project Server directly to the product team.

Back around 1999 or so, there were a few cloud-based project management solutions that entered the scene as part of the first wave of SaaS vendors (and before the big tech bubble burst), and I quickly recognized the value of PM tools in the cloud, trying out a number of vendor solutions over the years. Additionally, I’ve long been a fan of Kanban list management tools, and for a couple years had used Trello for internal and external projects. My biggest problem with Trello was that it was outside of the Microsoft stack, and I wanted something fully integrated that allowed me to leverage the full capability of SharePoint…and now Office 365. There are also a few free / open source Kanban add-ins for SharePoint floating around out there (like this one), but they’re fairly light-weight on features, and none of them have kept up to speed with Office 365.

When Teams was released, and Planner was included, I thought I had hit the jackpot. Unfortunately, the solution has simply not met my more advanced requirements. While Teams supports Trello, I’ve decided to go another route: I’m deploying KanBo.

KanBo messagesI blogged about using KanBo with SharePoint back in October 2013 after meeting company founder Michal Sobotkiewicz (@kanbohq) in Berlin before presenting to the local user group, and was thoroughly impressed with their MSOffice and AD integrations, numerous SharePoint web parts, and integration with workflow tools (Nintex, K2, etc). I had kept in touch with Michal over the past few years, and was happy to vote for them when they took home the European SharePoint Conference (@EuropeanSP) award for best social strategy at the 2014 event in Barcelona. But since then, they’ve added a number of powerful features to the mix, including:

  • Board Collections – a quick and visual way to organize your various boards/lists.
  • Personalized notifications – including @mentions on a Board or within a card to grab people’s attention.
  • Timelines – enabling you to see a quick rollup of deadlines in a single glance.
  • Skype integration – allowing you to see people’s availability and reach out to them instantly.
  • AD and AAD (Azure Active Directory) integration – allowing you to connect on-prem, online, or both.
  • Conversations within cards – enabling contextual conversation alongside the task, which means you don’t have to click over to another tab to find the relevant discussion around your assigned task. It’s all in the same place.
  • SharePoint list and Webforms integrations – so that you can have custom fields with calculation formulas, and connect your KanBo cards to InfoPath, Nintex, Wufoo Forms, and just about any other data source.
  • Personal views – so you can see across all of your projects from your own perspective. Combined with the timeline view, it’s a great way to monitor the critical path of all of your assigned tasks.
  • Outlook app – allowing you to easily convert emails into KanBo cards, and assign tasks.
  • Migration from Trello….as well as Planner – so you don’t lose any of your work to date.
  • The K-Bot – allowing you to interact with KanBo from a private or Team chat in Teams.

There’s a lot more under the hood, but hopefully this list has at least one or two items that are compelling. At this time, Teams has not yet gone live with their planned app discovery capability, which means KanBo is not yet available as a Microsoft Teams app, but I’m sure the KanBo team is waiting for this to launch so that they can showcase their solution.

Of course, because KanBo is browser-based, my plan is to create a KanBo board for each of my Teams and channels, and add a KanBo tab to each channel. My plan is to document most of my journey through this blog, and share my feedback with the KanBo team, and all of you. If you have any experience using KanBo, I’d love to hear your stories. Otherwise, I highly recommend that you take a look at their free trial, which you can deploy on their demo infrastructure, your own on-prem environment, or on Office 365, which is what I’ll be doing.

Happy Kanban-ing!

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.