Kanban Methods

I have recently started a job with a company called 1io. We are using the methods described by “Personal Kanban”, and the tools at LeankitKanban.com in order to organise our tasks and time. It is part of the “agile” workflow used by so many software organisations.

I am finding it to be incredibly useful on many levels.

For starters, a core concept of Kanban is that there should be “information radiators”, meaning that there should be an easy way to see what is going on at any moment, without the need to go digging for any information. A Kanban board will do this by default. At a glance, it is possible to see what a person is doing at any time, what is on hold, why it is on hold, what still needs to be done, and what is important. Yes, a Kanban board can look quite full of sticky notes, but the organisation of those notes has meaning, which users can interpret quickly and easily.

As a user, I can use this radiation of information to show both my co-workers and my bosses exactly what it is that I’m doing at any given point. It also allows them to check if the next item they wish to add to my “to-do list” is more or less important than what I am working on right now. If it is less important, then they will not mind if I don’t get working on it right away. In other words, it makes it far easier for me to say, “I have to put that on hold right now, but I will get to it” because they see that I have a system in place – a system that will allow me to tackle every task without forgetting any.

This concept is, to quote Jim and Tonianne’s (very informative and well-written) book, “limiting your work in progress” (WIP). This limitation of the number of tasks that one is working on at any given moment is critical to working effectively. John Medina’s book, “Brain Rules”, also mentions how the human brain physically cannot multitask effectively. Multitasking is an inherently inefficient way of working. Kanban seeks to rectify this by allowing a person to concentrate on fewer tasks at a time, unlike the “to-do list”, which just throws every task into the “doing” pile at once. The Kanban board then allows all others to see what is one one’s plate at any time, demonstrating that one is not slacking off.

Beyond this information radiation, it is both mentally and physically satisfying to see one’s tasks go from the backlog, to “ready”, to “in process” and then to “done”. Each time a task is moved to “done”, the brain releases a bit of reward, which is motivation for doing more. Furthermore, even the number of tasks doesn’t seem so overwhelming when there’s a system in place and one can see the tasks getting done.

Finally, as a recent MBA graduate who was job-hunting for a few months, every interview I did asked about previous achievements. A CV should also have these achievements listed in order to attract employers. In other words, I should have been taking note of all my measurable achievements over my working life in order to use them in the future. Moreover, it is vital when filling out an annual review form to have a list one’s achievements for the year.

Kanban can help with this.

Everything in the “done” column of a Kanban board is something that can be pointed to along with the phrase, “I did this”. It is not necessary for one to create a special document and remember to update it regularly, if the collation of completed tasks is already part of one’s daily process. Of course, some of the tasks will be small and not relevant or worth mentioning on a CV. But even these small tasks usually serve as reminders of the larger project upon which we worked.

This is also a reason why I am using an online tool for my Kanban board alongside my office whiteboard – I won’t have to trawl through physical post-it notes in order to see my achievements.

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