Go Kanban: Proving Ground’s Conductor, Trello and other stuff

Post originally authored for the blog of Strategie Digitali, on August 3rd 2018. Kanban is so much more than the board. There’s also a whole attempt at distinguishing between Kanban, the process, and kanban, the board, but it didn’t have much luck in an era where PEOPLE THINK IT’S OK TO SHOUT FOR NO APPARENT […]

Post originally authored for the blog of Strategie Digitali, on August 3rd 2018.


Kanban is so much more than the board. There’s also a whole attempt at distinguishing between Kanban, the process, and kanban, the board, but it didn’t have much luck in an era where PEOPLE THINK IT’S OK TO SHOUT FOR NO APPARENT REASON WHILE TYPING. Anyway. With a capital K, it’s a management system that has a lot to offer to our industry and the sole idea of visualizing the process can be translated in so many ways and has so many benefits for BIM that a book wouldn’t be enough.

If you follow the LeanConstruction Blog, you might have seen at least a mention around the KanBIM project (not to be confused with the guys at CanBIM): the project, under the leadership of Rafael Sacks with the Israel Institute of Technology, explores the possibility of implementing the Kanban and Andon principles into a model and the results have been submitted as a paper on the Lean Construction Journal in 2013. You can find it here.

Coming from Lean Production, Kanban focuses on balancing the demands with the available capacity and it’s not like it’s a situation you haven’t found yourself before, if you’re a BIM Coordinator. According to David J. Anderson in his bible on Kanban, we have five principles:

  • Visualize your workflow;
  • Limit work-in-progress;
  • Measure and manage the flow;
  • Render explicit the policies on process;
  • Utilize models to catch on betterment opportunities.

The kanban board is the mostly known feature and has a huge fortune in project management. It’s based on the visual impact of tasks placed in such a way that makes sense.

We saw a progression-based Kanban board when we talked about the process tab of the LOD Planner, few weeks ago.

You have different Kanban-enabling platforms out there, free or not free, coming from our industry or – more frequently – not.

  • Jira by Atlassian offers smart solutions including a kanban board to plan and track activities: it’s very popular among software developers;
  • Targetprocess offers a very sophisticated visual management tool and it’s not just about the board: you can visualize your tasks also by list and timeline;
  • Wrike has amazing solutions and resources, and our personal favorite is the Product Management software: it’s highly integrated with Scrum principles and really effective;
  • Resource Guru is more operator-centered, rather than task-centered, and leaves me a little doubtful since we believe in cross-functionality but still might come in handy;
  • Teamwork‘s Project Management software is very nice if you’re looking for something that operates smoothly from mobile;
  • Zoho has a beautiful platform for planning sprints (guess what, it’s called Sprints);
  • ActiveCollab also offers a nice, though a little pricey, board within the Project Management solution.

The most popular of them all, however, currently is without any doubt Trello.

I personally can’t live without it. Like literally. I would forget something crucial, like buying food, and consequently die of starvation.

Me without Trello to remind me of vital stuff.

If you’re a Trello fan and you work in BIM, you surely have heard of Proving Ground‘s Conductor. It’s a tool they developed to connect Trello with your Revit or Rhino model and it has been around for quite a while now, saving projects and forcing teams to talk to each other, binding issues to the actual model they originate from. It’s amazing. Pretty much vital, if you use Trello also on a project level.

The recent news is that the tool has become open source. That’s right. It’s available for free. Let’s see how to get it and how it works.

1. Install the Stuff

It’s a one-click installer from the website: the worst that can happen to you is Chrome wining that the .exe doesn’t seem to be safe and asking you if you want to delete it. Well, I wouldn’t have downloaded it in the first place if I did.

That’s right: it’s open source!

 

Conductor works for Revit 2017 and 2018 and… that’s right, I don’t have Rhino: you’re going to have to talk to Claudio about that.

As for today, you also have it available for Revit 2019.

 

Installing it takes the split of a second. Seriously. No time for coffee over this installer.

 

2. Fire up Revit

You’re going to need a Trello account. If you don’t have one, make one. Like now.

When you open Revit, of course it will whine that it has an unrecognized add-in and oh my oh my what are we going to do now.

Always load, otherwise it’s pointless.

The Conductor will position itself in a tab named “Proving Ground”, alongside other add-ons you might have from the same guys. They have, for instance, the Conveyor (which translates Rhino geometry into Revit without all those scripting and workarounds we’re always showing you), and you might want to check that out as well.

Anyway, let’s say that I have my Trello account (which I do) and that I have a project. I’m going to pick an oldie divertissment of mine, the Washington Museum of Science Fiction. Now, of course, this works a lot better if:

  • you’re by yourself and you have a very bad memory;
  • you’re not alone.

Now, I’m both of those things, therefore it works just great.

This is the concept: it was fun enough to model.

When you have an open model, hit the Conductor 1.0 Agile button.

The Conductor will open in another side tab and you’ll have to set up a couple of things.

1. Set Up User

As it happens when you’re trying to connect Dynamo with Google Drive (and we wrote about it here), you need to get what’s called a token. It’s a sort of authorization code and, as they say when you hover with the mouse on the “Get Token from Trello…” writing, it might need to be refreshed every once in a while.

When you hit that button, a page from your browser opens and wants you to authorize Conductor to use your Trello account (or asks you to log-in if your session has expired).

I know, it’s in Italian, bear with me.

When it’s done, just copy the token and paste it where it says you should. Easy.

The hit “Authorize App” and the tab will change to this.

2. Choose the Board

When you’ve logged in, you’ll see your Organizations and your Boards.

I’ll create a new one, otherwise Claudio will see a whole bunch of fake tasks and will kill me.

This is the board I’ll be performing tests on. Just so you see the categories.

If you hit “Check for Board Updates…”, it looks on the board and it’s useful for the next step, where you’ll have to choose in which tab to put tasks.

It even tells you how many changes you’ve had.

3. Select List

A list is one of the “Categories” you see in the board. In my case, they are Kanban style:

  • To do;
  • In Progress;
  • To Test;
  • To Release;
  • Released.

You can also have theme-based lists, but I don’t find that approach to be particularly beneficial. If you’re curious about the many strategies you can use to set up a Trello board, however, the Trello team provides few examples over here.

I’ve decided we’ve got things to do.

4. Select a Card

Cards are the single things you need to do (in my case, at least). What you’ll probably start with doing is create a New Card.

If you’re afraid that this function will throw back on your browser, in a messy merry-go-round, fear not. The function is a smooth, discrete, friendly looking pop-up window.

You have everything you need: you can give the card a Title, set up a Due Date (and connect everything through Elegannt but more on that later), Put  Description and add Checklists, add Members, assign Labels. What’s more important, you can Take a Screenshot (the small button at the bottom of the window). Now, creating the screenshot might crash. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Just try and remember that the capture screen function doesn’t want a drag and drop, but works with two clicks.

That’s the final result of the card in Trello

5. Card Properties

The last and most important feature is the ability to interact with the Card directly from Revit through the Card Info section.

You can create Checklists and mark things as done, add comments and add Attachments. This means that you can divide a task in sub-tasks…

We’ve got three lamps to be replaced, so I created a checklist.

…add Comments…

Those lamps are everywhere and now I’m worried we have to replace all of them.

…which will make your Card Info section look like this.

In the Attachments screen you’ll be able to take more screenshots or attach a regular attachments. To be completely honest with you, that’s how I uploaded my screenshot in the first place: the “Take Screenshot” doesn’t seem to be working and maybe it’s quarreling with Greenshot.

The “Update Card in Trello” will (guess what?) update your card.

6. Connect the Dots and Create a Gantt

Who says you can’t do Gantt Diagrams in Agile? You can visualize your process as you want and just remember that a Gantt Diagram is not a final product per se: it’s simply a codified way to visualize a process.

This is how my board is looking

Now, this only makes sense if I have interlaced tasks. Let’s assume that I was right: we need to change the lamps in the office and then, when they are approved, we should evaluate if we want to put the same in the cafe or not. We need to choose the lamps tomorrow so that a decision can be made by Sunday. On Monday I’m gone: we’ve got BILTna coming up.

Our favorite tool to create Gantt from Trello is called Elegantt and it shows up as that little button with an “E” on top of my cards. As soon as I activate it, a small [!E] will show up next to the title of my lists.

Just remember that Elegantt doesn’t like overcrowded lists: if you have too many items in one list, it will whine just as it does on our Company’s main board.

Guess what? Too many things to do.

You also have to activate Elegantt on the board itself. You do it simply by refreshing the Board page and by hitting “Yes, please!”

I guess it has to do what you ask as long as you say “Please”.

You’ll need Elegantt Pro to assign a Lead to the tasks and create Dependencies. But that, I think, it’s something due for another review.

Further Readings

  • For Italian speaking readers or Google Translator masters, Simone Pozzoli wrote a piece about the connection between Revit, Tello and Slack. You find it here.

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