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How to Set up a Kanban Board in YouTrack

For a small non-distributed team, the best Kanban board is probably your plain simple whiteboard. If your team is distributed or just bigger, or if you’d like to integrate Kanban board and an issue tracker anyway, consider using YouTrack Agile board for your Kanban project.

The cards on the board will represent issues to be processed by your team(s). Books such as Priming Kanban talk of work items, but for purposes of this discussion taskissue and card are all synonyms.

Creating the board

Note on permissions: To configure board settings, you need to have at least Read Issue permissions for the project, as you are going to configure the board. You also need the Update Issue permission to be able to move cards on the board, and the Create Issue permission to make new cards.

Click the Agile Boards link at the top of YouTrack screen, then click the Create button. Choose which projects the board will belong to. You can specify an optional query to filter the cards on the board if needed, and/or define visibility settings.

Agile board has its own visibility settings which take over general project visibility permissions. If the 'Visible for' parameter is configured as 'Project based,' a user must have access to the project(s) to have access to the board. If the 'Visible for' parameter is set to the user group, a user must have access to the project(s) and be the part of the selected user group.

After the board is created, start configuring it. In particular, choose which card field will be used as a source for column titles.
Visibility settings for existing board can be changed by clicking the project name in the board settings ("WebDev" on the screenshot below in the section Board columns).

Board columns

The Kanban concept assumes that you draw columns on a Kanban board reflecting your actual work process. Your process may include many stages, and all of them will be visualized. Most developer teams use three to seven columns. This is a reasonable limit, as monitoring the board is essential in Kanban practice. The more columns you have, the harder they are to keep track of.

Columns usually represent the work stage, department name, or anything else that you consider as a stage in your work process. When you create a new card for Kanban board, the card represents an issue in YouTrack. Each issue has fields such as Summary, Description, Due Date, etc. There should be a field among them where you can put the column name. When you move the card around the board, the field takes the value of the column that it has been moved to.

For example, you've decided the columns will represent departments in your company such as Setup, Visual design, Software development, Testing, and Release management. Accordingly, a field named "Department" should have the possible values of "Setup," "Visual design," "Software development," "Testing," and "Release management."

To display the appropriate columns, configure the field to use as a base for columns. If you do not see settings on the screen, click the Agile Settings button   in the top right-hand corner of the board and choose the field to represent the columns on the board:

You can set the color for each column individually. Hover over the column and click the gear-shaped settings icon that appears in the right-hand corner (as for Done column title above).

In the settings dialog for the column, choose a color for the column:

The new column color will be visible as a thin line under the column title.

No Sprints

Agile board in YouTrack can be used in projects with many sprints. Kanban does not require sprints though, so you don't need to create sprints for your Kanban board.

YouTrack uses the Version field in task properties to indicate the iteration for which the board shows progress. 'Fix version' field is used by default. However, you can choose any other field of 'Version' type at any time.

When you use Agile Board as a Kanban board to reflect continuous work flow, there are no scheduled iterations. Use the 'Unscheduled' version value if you want to see all the tasks that are not assigned to any particular version on your Kanban board.

Technically, you can create a new iteration on an Agile board in YouTrack by clicking the New button to the right of the progress bar (see the picture above). However, you should not do so if you strive to follow Kanban guidelines and wish to see all tasks on a single board.

No swimlanes

Kanban concept does not require swimlanes. Therefore, deselect the Swimlanes check-box as you create a new agile board in YouTrack, to use it as your Kanban board.


Work In Progress (WIP) is an indicator of how many cards can be present in a particular board column simultaneously. This represents the number of tasks being run at that work stage. We recommend that your WIP value reflect the actual number of tasks which can be performed at the same time at this work stage.

For example, a project team of six QA engineers may decide to limit themselves to no more than 6 simultaneous tasks in Testing. Thus, WIP for Testing should be set to 6.

For buffer work stages such as "waiting for implementation" or "ready to be included in next build," Priming Kanban advises setting a WIP to have the column empty a reasonable amount of time: not too often (meaning the next stage has no tasks to pick up), and not too rarely (meaning a bottleneck when the next stage can not process the tasks fast enough). Having the buffer column empty once-twice a week seems to be a good approach.

You can set WIP for each column individually, including minimum WIP and maximum WIP. Click the gear-shaped button     in the upper right-hand corner of Agile Board, hover over the board column name, and click the settings icon that appears:

Multiple projects on a single Kanban board

Kanban board can give an overview of your work process as a whole if you put on the board items related to several (or all) projects. It makes sense to see how your teams are loaded, regardless of whether they are all deeply involved in a project.

Click the project name (WebDev in the example below) to configure an existing board, or choose several projects for a board you are configuring from scratch. You can choose as many projects as you need for a single Kanban board in YouTrack.

Please refer to How-to Handle Cross-project Agile Boards in YouTrack for more details on configuring multiple projects on the same board.

Color-coded cards

There are two ways to color cards. The simple scenario is to have them colored depending on the value of one of the fields, for example, project or priority. If the card represents a critical task, it's red; if it has regular priority, it's green. To implement this, configure the Priority field to have color values from Administration > Project > Fields:

You can use this approach for any field of Enumeration type (i.e. a field having a limited set of possible values).

You may, on the other hand, want to have cards colored depending on various conditions, such as approaching deadline (the closer the deadline, the deeper the red color of the card). In that case please refer to the tutorial How to Create Workflows and Rules for YouTrack. You will need to program a logic you need with workflow language, and then have the card colored automatically as needed.

TV Darcula style for daily stand-up meetings

Some teams use large TV screens to display their Kanban board at their meetings. Darcula, a board color scheme with a dark background, has proven to look better on TV than the standard color scheme with white background.

To switch your Kanban board's color scheme, look for the setting in the upper right-hand corner of the screen:

Moving tasks around the board

While moving tasks around the board, you may sometimes exceed the maximum WIP limit for a column. YouTrack alerts you to this by changing the background color of the column and indicating the limit is exceeded. In the example below, there are four tasks while max WIP is three:

Notice how the extra cards don’t appear on the board; to see them, you need to click "And more...". This is because the Max tasks for the Design column is set to 3. If you set Max WIP to 3 and Max tasks to 6, for example, then you’ll be able to see more tasks in the column than Max WIP. Max tasks setting defines how many tasks will be shown in the column at max, while Max WIP defines how many tasks you approve to be in the State represented by the column.

Progress bar

The progress bar is combined with a sprint selector. The progress bar shows your tasks distribution (as percentage) by stages, according to the columns represented on the board. The colors in the bar correspond to column colors, which you can set in the column’s settings (see the Board Columns section above).

Percentages shown below are calculated as a ratio of the total number of cards on the board (including those exceeding max WIP limits – notice "4 over 3" for Design column).

Cumulative flow diagram

Cumulative flow diagram (CFD) shows the distribution of tasks across stages at every moment. CFD is good for monitoring your progress, better understanding the workflow, and detecting bottlenecks. It is especially useful when you have a "Done" state to represent completed tasks. It may have other names, like "Fixed" for software bugs, or "Ready for shipment" for manufactured products.

To look at Cumulative Flow Diagram, click the Charts button in the top right-hand corner of Agile Board:

YouTrack shows CFD indicating distribution of tasks in all stages with colors which represent the columns on the board. (See the "Progress bar" section above.)

CFD in YouTrack is interactive: hover over a date on the chart to see the number of tasks at all the stages.

On this graph, the vertical axis shows the number of tasks in each column, and the horizontal axis represents time (dates).

To see how quickly you’re getting things done, look at the blue region between the Done area and the Open area. It represents your WIP. Basically, the steeper it declines, the faster you’re completing your workload and nearing the final release date.

Also, your blue region is supposed to shrink with time. If it’s expanding, that could be a sign of a bottleneck. Or, it could mean you’re adding more work to your system than your current capacity allows.


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