Productivity through visibility – the Kanban board
Originally posted here.
We’ve all have been there: trying to become more productive and improve the way we work. If you are looking for a way to limit the “work in progress” answers received from your colleagues and achieve better results, here is a tool you can experiment with: the Kanban board.
What is the Kanban board
A kanban board is a visual tool that is effective at easily communicating a large amount of information. This makes easier the process management and workflows that are important to helping the business run smoothly.
This type of board uses cards, columns, colors, icons and other visual indicators that help people easily understand the information and retain it. Most teams that use Kanban boards develop their own unique configuration.
The board can be physical or a software tool, but that the physical board is usually more flexible and recommended. For example, both Mozaic Works team and MozaicLabs are using whiteboards to manage projects we are working on.
Why use a Kanban board
Briefly, the Kanban board can help you and your team with:
- minimize waste work (e.g partially done work, extra features, task switching)
- ensure quick response to changes and problems
- stay on top of your tasks
- keep track of the activities and optimize the time spent on each activity
- focus on the most important tasks
How to build and use the Kanban board
Identify and visualize the workflow
Start with what you are currently working on. Identify the main stages in the project/product development. The most simple Kanban board contains 3 columns: To Do, Doing, Done.
Limit the work-in-progress (WIP)
For each specific activity, limit the number of tasks per step in the value flow (i.e. the process revealed by the board). They are pulled from column to column at each stage. This way, the team won’t be overload and bottlenecks can easily identify bottlenecks. You can add extra information to the post-its. For example, mention who is the owner of an activity and how many hours it lasted that specific action.
With the Kanban board, it can be visualized how work flows through the system. By building the Kanban board representatively for your product and limiting the WIP, you will quickly begin to see when work isn’t moving through the system. For instance, if work starts collecting in one stage, it’s time to look deeper at what might be causing a bottleneck.
Explicit policies and entry criteria
The policy is the team’s commitment to complete a certain list of activities before allowing work to be pulled into the next column. Identify and define policies and entry criteria for the tasks and activities. Make sure that even exceptional tasks are well integrated into the process.
As the team identifies opportunities to improve the system, this knowledge is “written in” to the Kanban board itself. This allows an easy capture and preservation of the organizational learning. By conveying clear expectations to stakeholders, the board helps you with dealing with misunderstandings, create a stronger, and built a more trusting relationship.
Manage the activities flow
Monitor and measure the activities’ cycle time. The cycle time represents the work item spends from started to done (without the time that the task spent waiting on the board). This interval is measured from the work item’s point of view, that it doesn’t matter if it waits for something, the cycle time still passes.
Therefore, the cycle time should start being measured, when the item task enters the “working” column, not earlier.
Time management and metrics are important for any team. The Kanban board helps with quickly answering questions like Is cycle time going up or down? Where are bottlenecks? Is something stuck somewhere, or should tasks be merged/split up?
Feedback & Continuous Improvement
Kanban is evolutionary. And one if it’s most relatable, proven benefit is continuous improvement. Talk about what worked and what didn’t. Based on the Kanban board, identify bottlenecks and find ways to fix them.
When the teams are allowed to take a step back and examine how they are utilizing their resources and labor, they can easily spot new opportunities.
In the rush for productivity and keeping in-sync, the Kanban board can easily do the trick. By being visual, simple and easy to understand and offer plenty of information in just a glance, it’s a tool that you and your team will enjoy using.