Kanban and ChatOps for a Modern Control Room

This article describes the use of noticeboards – Kanban – a methodology to deliver efficient event management, notably for the LDWA 100 mile walk in May.Originally developed for car manufacturing, this simple but effective way of tracking requests has found its way into software development, help desks and now our event control. Each card on the board represents an actionable request; classic examples are a checkpoint needing extra water or a retired competitor needing transport back to their car.

Mock Kanban board for KCR website

A Kanban Board

The columns – “lists” in Kanban speak – essentially represent which team is dealing with the request, and the comments attached to the card represent status updates or decisions made. Once a problem is resolved and the card is dealt with, it gets moved to the last list – we’ve appropriately called it Spiked!

We’ve modified the regular Kanban rules of always flowing from left-to-right by using the first two columns as Inbox and Outbox; this allows radio or telephone operators to know when it’s their turn to pass on the good news, or take the next issue. Most software Kanban systems have a quick-add function, so it’s just a case of typing and pressing enter to create and post a card.

We also use a list to hold links to important information. For the LDWA, we are planning links to the complete list of non-runners, our contacts spread-sheet, and the trackers website showing the location of the welfare buses and sweep walker. Doing this allows everyone to quickly find information without digging into emails.

We use the convention that the oldest card in any list should be at the top, but obviously something extra is needed to flag and push urgent requests, so labels can be added to any card to give a quick visual indication of importance or special requirement. High and Medium priority are self-explanatory; our convention is that High should be reviewed – triaged, not resolved – within 10 minutes of posting. We also have labels to indicate a transport requirement. They highlight cards which need action when the welfare wagon or bus calls in.

An exceptional advantage of using a web-based system is that we can provide view-only access to colleagues at checkpoints. Thus, they can follow the progress of their requests without extra calls through radio or phone systems.

ChatOps – Logging, discussion and notifications using chat rooms.

Kanban is superb at tracking actionable requests, but events also generate a lot of important messages that have no associated action, but must still be logged. The board can cope with low numbers of these messages, but recording information such as who has arrived on site is better handled by a scrolling interface – in other words, a chat room, where messages are just added to the list.

The benefit of posting logs and requests to a chat room is that all operators can post their updates without interfering with each other. It also allows everyone to read what’s going on without interrupting the radio operator, and it’s searchable, so things are easy to find.

Using two discrete systems might seem to pose a problem by forcing an operator to decide whether a message should be posted to the board, or to the ChatOps system, or both. But there is no real problem because chat rooms like Slack or Stride have excellent integration with Trello, a Kanban board. Put simply, when an update happens in Trello, they are posted back to the chat room, and cards can also be created from a relevant chat room posting. Importantly, the resulting transaction log is full of automatic timestamps which helps when scrolling back through.

If all goes well for the LDWA, we’ll look at ways to roll this out for our primary role function; supporting the community and its key services during emergencies. If you’d like to join us and support our voluntary work we’d love to hear from you.

Featured image by Kevin on Unsplash
This article is a personal opinion article and its contents may therefore not represent Kent County RAYNET’s current policies.