How To Track Blockers in VSTS using Color Coded Tags

Documents how to track blockers in VSTS with the configuration of Blocker color coding configured on Board team views.

Written in 2016-2017:
This is part of a series of articles that I originally wrote in 2016-2017 and were only published on private internal company wikis. I am publishing them publicly for the first time in 2019, here on my blog.

Written for Microsoft’s VSTS:
Some content is written for Microsoft’s Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), as it existed in 2016-2017. VSTS was renamed to Azure DevOps in 2018 (
WikiPedia).

Tags and Using Them:

Here are the tags setup in the VSTS project:

Tag Meaning
Blocker Blocking another work item.
BlockedByBlue Blocked by the Blue team.
BlockedByGreen Blocked by the Green team.
etc. etc.

How To use Tags:

1. Edit the work item.
2. Click Add tag at the top of the work item, and type.
Typing will filter the list and you can select from the list with mouse or cursor keys.

Optionally Use Links to Other Work Items:

To provide you easy traceability between blockers and the work items it blocks, you can use links.

What Color Coding Looks Like:

How Color Coding Styles are Setup:

Documents VSTS Board View Settings.

View Team > Backlogs > Board view

Click Configure Settings gear icon

What Settings > Styles look like

What Style Rule Details look like for 1 rule

Style Rules Limitation:

I discovered a limitation, but worked around it. The VSTS Style Rules can not be combined – once a rule solves as true, the evaluation of the rules stops. So we can’t combine multiple rules to implement different styles for multiple tags – such as: IF tags include Blocked THEN red background and IF ByViolet THEN Violet title text.

Where Tags are Defined for the VSTS Project:

Tags are defined for the VSTS project by adding them to any work item. Once added they will automatically appear everywhere in the VSTS project, and users won’t need to enter them manually. That would be prone to errors. So it’s a good practice to add them ahead of time. This way they can simply select them from a pre-populated list.

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