Breaking It Down, LeanKit Style

Whether you are breakdancing or managing a project, your success is equal to your ability to break it down.  That’s right.  You’ve got to Break Down Your Work.  Break.  It.  Down.  Either by spinning on your head or by accurately planning and scoping your next project so your boss can brag about how fly you are at the next department meeting.
Everyone knows the consequences of NOT breaking it down are wack: missed deadlines, budget overages, unforeseen delays.  Not to mention your street cred around the coffee maker will suffer.
If you’re not sure how to break it down, or you've been trying and tripping over your own Adidas, don’t worry.  We’ll teach you how to break down your work, LeanKit style.
Breaking Down Your Work for Visual Management
At LeanKit, we break it down visually.  To manage your work visually, it helps to break down your work into the smallest possible size.
To break down your work, follow these steps:
1. Ask yourself these questions:

What steps are necessary to get the project done?

What resources and commitments are required from others?

How will your project impact other work being done?

By breaking it down, you can get a clear picture of the terrain before you set out.
2. Document each step of your process.  Either write it down, type it in or graffitti it to the side of your building.  Regardless of medium, getting your process on paper (or in pixels) will help you understand your process more fully.  This could be as simple as reflecting your process on a wall full of sticky notes, or uploading your complete project timeline from a spreadsheet into a visual project management tool, like LeanKit.
3. Manage your work by working the board.  After you’ve broken down the work, you don’t have to spend precious energy evaluating and re-evaluating your priorities.  When done properly, your project board will become your beacon of truth.
Benefits of Breaking Down Your Work
When work is properly broken down into ‘bite-sized’ pieces (and these pieces are represented visually using a project board or kanban board), everyone can see all the elements of a work item and understand how they all fit together.  While it seems like a simple change, breaking down work can have a positive impact on the quality of deliverables.  When you make people happy with your work, you feel happy, and the world becomes your urban sidewalk.
Who’s Breaking it Down?
Borrowing from their IT-industry counterparts, non-IT professionals are now finding it possible to get as much, if not more, done in the same amount of time by breaking down their work.  Non-IT professionals include knowledge workers, office managers, project managers, administrative leads, team leads and anyone else who manages team work.
Using visual management, the time and mental energy required to process the ambiguities of a project is reduced.  This makes people happier and more likely to hold more dance-off’s – something the world greatly needs in our opinion.

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Mobile Visual Management with our App

We go where you go

In case you haven’t noticed, mobile technology is everywhere. Our world is filled with hot-spots, and almost everyone has a ‘smart’ device. No longer tied to our desktops, it’s changing the way we work. Simply put, mobile empowers us to work anytime, any where - as long as we have the right apps to enable us.

LeanKit’s mobile app is designed to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on - so whether you’re at an offsite meeting, checking in from a coffee-shop or working from home, you can easily see the latest status, make updates and respond to comments.

Mobile visual management is changing the way people work

Daniel Norton, LeanKit’s Chief Mobile Officer, explains why mobile is such a critical part of LeanKit’s product strategy: “The workplace has changed. People no longer sit in cubicles all day, tied to their desktop computers. If you’re using LeanKit to manage your work, you MUST have the ability to stay connected with your work and your team no matter where you are.”
Here are just a few ways going mobile with LeanKit makes your life easier:

No matter where you are and what you’re doing, real-time board updates keep you in-the-know.

By adding new cards and making edits on-the-go, things are less likely to fall between the cracks

Get the full context of what you’re working on with the ability to view and upload attachments right from your mobile device.

Hear more about what Daniel has to say on LeanKit’s mobile strategy during a recent webinar.
Here are the latest updates regarding our mobile apps for iOS and Android.
LeanKit for iOS 7: We’ve just released an updated iOS app that supports iOS 7 and offers new capabilities including the ability view and upload attachments. It’s very easy to use with your existing LeanKit account; just download it from the Apple Store, login and start working. LeanKit supports any iOS device that runs iOS 6 or 7, on iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch. You can get the app here.


LeanKit for Android: LeanKit is actively working on an Android handheld application. The beta version is expected to be released in early 2014. (Update: LeanKit for Android is now available on Google Play.) Android users can look forward to a slightly different experience than the iOS app as our dedicated mobile team rethinks how LeanKit should work on a small handheld device.

For both iOS and Android mobile apps, look out for more exciting updates and new features in 2014. Download the latest LeanKit iOS App or LeanKit for Android App -- give them a try and let us know what you think.

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‘Face it to Replace it’ and Other Dr. Phil-isms Related to Continuous Improvement

Dr. Phil has the most awesome one-liners.  “No matter how flat you make a pancake, it’s always got two sides.”  This is so true.  “If you’re gonna debate me, you better not let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass.”  I can’t interpret this one, but I’m sure it was spot on at the time.  Although Dr. Phil’s home-spun one-liners can come across a bit cryptic, sometimes he punches you in the face with a line of truth you’ll never forget.
One such Dr. Phil-ism I will always remember kept running through my mind during my first ever Continuous Improvement Event, and that is, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge.”
Because it’s hard to acknowledge that you are accountable for your own situation, many people remain stuck in a pattern of doing something, says the doctor.  By acknowledging the thing you want to improve, you take the first step towards improvement.  Although the doctor was talking to a married couple when he said it, it also applied to the company and the relationships between us, the team members.  The acknowledgement of that which must be changed is a primary building block of a successful marriage AND a successful business.
Dr. Phil’s words would prove true over and over as we pushed for change from deep inside the company in the aftermath of our Continuous Improvement Event.  Here’s how it all went down:

The Back-Story
Before coming to LeanKit, I worked with a retailer as an E-Commerce Marketing Manager.  The company was conservative in its expenditures and had traditionally taken a slow but steady approach to its growth.  When the executive team committed to “going Lean,” it was no surprise.
So, when I was asked to join a cross-functional team to help improve the company’s Print Ad Proofing Process, I jumped at the chance.  While our print ads generated millions in revenue, we were wasting millions of dollars in overhead producing them.  Those were dollars that the company could have passed along to our customers!

The Event
For four days, representatives from Advertising, Merchandising, Procurement, Store Operations, IT and other departments sat in a room together amongst whiteboards and stacks of post-it notes working to tease it all out.  Each person came armed with his/her special bits of knowledge, and before we knew it, the walls were covered in post-it notes showing dozens of ‘value streams’, or workflows that each represented a part of the larger process.

Here’s an oversimplified account of how we created a new process:

Mapped out the current process using hundreds of sticky notes (this took the entire first day).  Different colored notes and sections of the wall were designated to different sections of the process.

Identified waste in the current process (time spent re-working, correcting, waiting on turn-around, etc.) and grouped together waste items according to different types of work.

Mapped a new process using the discoveries we had made.

Formed action plans for putting the new process into place.

The ‘Ah-ha’ Moment
We knew this thing was huge, but seriously?  We had never visualized the entire process, so it was enlightening to see just how huge it was!  It involved hundreds of people and a tremendous amount of resources from inside and outside the company working for several months just to produce one print ad.  Our company produced dozens of print ads each year, so you can imagine the potential savings.
Mapping, re-mapping and re-re-mapping the process took lots of work, but the savings opportunities we found through our discussions made it worthwhile.
Now, would anyone actually follow the new process?  Would we be able to effectively influence (and manage) this change?

Acknowledging the Need for Change
Many of the changes hinged on the cooperation of other teams - especially those that had been less-than-receptive in the past.  The new process required people to hold others accountable, something many departments had failed to do because it was easier that way.  Rolling out the new process was going to be “like nailing jello to the wall.”
But, like a great marriage, success in business takes a willingness to acknowledge your flaws and motivation to do the work necessary to continuously improve.  The words of Dr. Phil, “You can’t change what you don’t acknowledge,” makes so much sense in terms of continuous improvement.  If you don’t take the time on the front-end to examine your processes and ask tough questions, you can’t even begin to see what you aren’t acknowledging, much less acknowledge it and take steps to improve.
Now that we could tie the new process back to a number (calculated based on time and money used to produce an ad), even the most resistant teams were forced to acknowledge that a change was needed and actually started to embrace the new process!  Those who were were once our biggest opponents had become our most vocal advocates.
Once everyone saw the benefit in slowing down to go faster, our process improvements began gaining traction as people found the changes actually saved them time in their daily work.  Multiply that across hundreds of people, year after year, and you not only have massive savings for the company, you could also end up with a more fulfilled team and happier customers in the end.
Photo of Dr. Phil from MakeMeLaugh.com

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