The future of visual management (is here)

At LeanKit, we're firm believers in practicing what we preach. The core product that we build is software that allows our customers to create kanban-style boards for managing teams and projects. We think it's a pretty great tool, and we're always working to make it better. But, we know that a tool is only as good as the process it supports. Using LeanKit by itself won't magically make your team better. Using LeanKit to effectively implement Lean-Agile management practices with good technical practices in a healthy, supportive working environment can work wonders.

We're active participants in the Lean-Agile "community", going to a lot of events. Of course, part of that is because we have a product to sell. But we are also keenly interested in the latest ideas from community thought-leaders. And we want to see and hear how customers and potential customers are "doing" kanban effectively. That informs our product development, we incorporate those ideas into how we run LeanKit as a company, and we like to share back to the community our experiences as a kanban team.

Which brings us to the future of visual management. A kanban board works best if the team sees it all the time. A whiteboard with sticky notes does that automatically - at least for the people in the room. It doesn't work so well for a distributed team. An electronic system like LeanKit solves that problem. But you run the risk of the board becoming a status reporting system that people look at occasionally rather than an always-visible information radiator and hub for collaboration.
So how do you get the best of both worlds?
We've long thought that the answer lay in interacting with LeanKit via a large screen TV. We've seen customers use giant, smart touchscreens like those from Smart Technologies. They're awesome products made by a great company and, we think, well worth it if you can afford them. But not every departmental manager can justify that kind of capital investment. So, we've experimented with retail-available touchscreens like the HP Touchsmarts connected to a normal computer. A very nice option, but still fairly expensive, say $3-4,000 for a screen and computer. More than we felt comfortable recommending to most customers as a real-world actionable solution.

A plain old big-screen LCD is great as a pure information radiator. You can get a 50-inch for about $600 on Amazon. Since a big screen will last years, you're really talking about 50 cents a day in cost. That should be very do-able if you think about the hourly labor-rate for most of the teams doing kanban and/or the value of the products they produce. But what about interactivity. The touchscreens may be expensive but they let you move cards on your LeanKit board - not just view them.

I can hook up a computer to the LCD, but the cost for a real PC seems a bit much for a screen I only occasionally interact with. And the user interface is a little clumsy for interacting with the board on the screen. Do you put a desk in front of the screen where you move the mouse? Not practical.
Enter the smart TVs
For those who haven't seen one yet, a smart TV combines (obviously) a TV with a decent-but-not-over-the-top computer processor, integrated WiFi and web browsing, and point-and-click/drag-and-drop interaction with the screen. You can get this included in newer TVs or you can buy add-on devices that plug-in to a TV. We've tried several models and found we liked the LG G2's as the best example of an integrated device and the  Sony Internet Player with Google TV as the best of the add-on options. The integrated device has the benefit of uber-simplicty. Buy it. Hang it on the wall. Plug it in. Go. And they're not too expensive. About $1,500 for the 55-inch.

We've found, however, that we prefer the Sony add-on device. First, they're definitely cheaper, about $150 plus the TV. So $800 total cost using the Panasonic 50-inch we mentioned above. We also prefer the style of remote that comes with them. The LG's have a point-and-click Wii-mote style controller. That's intuitive but a little touchy for fine-grained movements of a mouse. The Sony has more of a touchpad controller, like your laptops only in the palm of your hand. Both controllers have a full QWERTY keyboard on the back. And, even though they are an add-on, all you have to do is plug them into HDMI port of the TV. The remote is even easily programmable to replace the TV remote. The extra install time relative to the LG was measured in minutes.

Making things even better, you can connect other peripherals to the TV through the Sony box. In the picture you see with this story we've got a Logitech Skype webcam connected to the TV (just a 42-inch in this case, a new 50-inch arrives later this week) through our Sony box. This allows us to have always-on HD video conferencing between our teams in multiple locations, combined with always-on interactive electronic kanban. It cost less than $1,000 per location. We installed it in minutes (minus the TV bracket) without any special skills or tools. The sales and marketing team did this, not the engineers. And you would not believe how much it improves the quality of interaction between remote teams.

If your entire team can be in the same room to work together all the time, awesome. We're thrilled for you. But that's a luxury most of us can't manage. Distributed teams are reality for most of us. With the latest technology (including LeanKit!) you can retain much more of the experience of being together than ever before. And you can do it easily and cheaply. You probably don't even need to get permission or get a special budget allocation. Order them from Amazon today. Have them installed in a few days. Start reaping the benefits immediately.

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LeanKit Enhancements & Bug Fixes – Nov/Dec 2012

If you haven't noticed, our pace of development has picked up a lot recently. We've got some awesome new team members. We've borrowed/adapted a great new 1-page product management approach that we heard  from Mattias Skarin at Lean Kanban Central Europe. And (gasp!) we're really limiting our WIP of "management-sponsored projects" pretty severely to force ourselves to focus and to allow slack time for inevitable interruptions and creative problem-solving space for the team. Who knew this Kanban approach worked so well?

We're still not as fast as we'd like (could we ever be?) but better-and-better all the time. We're now pretty consistently releasing new capabilities or non-critical bug fixes on a weekly basis. (Critical fixes go in immediately, of course.) But, we don't want to bombard you with spam updates. So, while we're releasing code all the time, so long as the changes don't require you to do something right away and/or won't create any downtime for you, we're bundling the announcements. So, in case you haven't noticed already, here's what we've released recently:
New Features / Enhancements
Staleness Filter

You can now filter your kanban board to show cards that have stayed in their current lane for more than a specified amount of time. It's called the Staleness filter. The idea is to help you easily see which work is stuck in your process. It could be that, while your over-all cycle time is great, certain types of work take longer and people kind of work around them. Maybe that's OK sometimes, but now you can see where the rocks are in your process flow and remove them if you wish.

Invitations

We've made it easier for you to add new users to your account. Instead of having to go into the admin screens and fill out all the information for a new user, users with the right level of permissions can invite them from the home screen or a board simply by clicking a single button (it looks like a head-and-shoulders with a plus sign), inputting one or more e-mail addresses, and clicking Send Invitation. The invitee can then fill out the rest of their information. PS You can still create users the old way.

Our First Board

We introduced a feature called Our First Board. This is a sample kanban board, populated with sample cards that we designed to help new users more easily understand the key ideas in Kanban and the key features of LeanKit. This was designed initially for new customer accounts, but we decided to put it in the template library just in case you might find it helpful in training new users joining your LeanKit account. If you are a Basic Edition customer, the Welcome board doesn't count toward your limit of boards.

Saving Cards with Board Templates

In the process of creating the Welcome Board, we "accidentally" added another feature, which we made available to Portfolio Edition accounts - the ability to save a set of cards when saving a board as a template and to decide whether to clone those cards when creating a new board from the template.

Each card will be recreated in the same position on the new board as on the original - unless it was in the archive. We don't save archive cards because there can be SO many! The re-created cards will include: title, description, priority, size, card type, class of service, blocked/unblocked with reason, tags, external link, and external card ID. We don't save/clone attachments, comments, history or due date.

We think this feature will be great for organizations that have standard tasks or deliverables that are required each time a certain type of project is done. Now you can save those standard deliverables as cards on a series of "checklist" board templates. Each time you need to do a project of a standard type you can create a drill-through board using the right template. In our world of IT, things like server builds, third Saturday maintenance, deployment checklists, Scrum planning meetings, stage gate governance reviews, etc. spring to mind. We know our friends/customers in the Lean manufacturing world are very big on standard work. Used in conjunction with lane policies, we hope this will be a powerful project portfolio management tool for encouraging consistent workflow without "enforcing" compliance.

Faster Board Refreshing

We changed how we handle refreshing your board with updates made by other people. "Why should I care?" you might ask. Two reason. One, this will allow our infrastructure to support many more customers. Which will keep our hardware costs down as we expand and allow us to spend that money on building cool new features instead. And two, more tangibly, it will improve the speed with which you see changes made by other people. It was already pretty fast. 5-10 seconds. Now it should be 1-2 seconds. A much nicer collaboration tool and great for a stand-up meeting. No more standing around waiting for the updated card to move! This change is being rolled out gradually to ensure system stability so it may be a little while before everyone sees the change.

And a Few More

Users had requested that we display the current number of cards/card size total when hovering over the lane, not just when hovering over the lane header. Now we do.
If a card has a parent card (for Portfolio Edition customers) you now see the parent card when looking at the card edit dialog.
You can now asssign a parent card via the right click menu

Bug Fixes

If you opened and closed the archive during the process of editing a board, sometimes the last lane on the main board wrapped to the bottom of the screen. That's now fixed.
Sometimes icons from the parent card were showing "through" when you opened a task board
When drilling through from a parent card on one board to see its child cards on another board, the view is supposed to be filtered to highlight only those cards that are children. In some cases, a user's other previously-set filters were also being applied at the same time.
We fixed an issue with the GetCardById API call where we were returning the wrong status code.
We handled some issues with wrapping of lanes depending on how far in/out you were zoomed in the Google Chrome browser
We made the system display properly in IE 10
We corrected an issue with file attachment downloads in IE 8
We dealt with an issue with persistent cross-site scripting. So far as we know this was never exploited maliciously. Just something uncovered in an external security audit. We're constantly working to ensure the security of your data.
We also closed a very small security issue related to phishing - content spoofing
We blocked users from uploading executable files and created a back-end admin tool for blocking specific file types upon customer request.
We can now turn-off the RSS feed through our back-end admin tool for customers whose security departments don't like this feature. We've already been able to do this for file attachments.

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LeanKit Enhancements and Bug Fixes – Sep/Oct 2012

We've got some bigger things in the works (some of which ought to be delivered in the next few weeks), but we wanted to make sure you know that there's lots of work happening all the time to make LeanKit a better product for you and your team. We're actually doing (at least) a weekly release these days including both new features and big fixes.

Thanks to you, our customers, we've been able to expand our development team. So you should expect to see even more new capabilities from LeanKit going forward. Thank you!

Here are the enhancements and fixes that we've deployed over the past few weeks

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LeanKit Launches Project Portfolio Management Edition

LeanKit now supports enterprise project portfolio management at any scale – not to mention being more attractive, intuitive, and easier to manage.
LeanKit, recognized as the leader in electronic Lean/Kanban software, announced the launch of groundbreaking new features that will allow even the largest enterprise portfolio and projects to be managed using multiple levels of drill-down Kanban boards, detailed taskboards, and roll-up Lean metrics - as well as a complete overhaul of their user interface that makes LeanKit more attractive, more intuitive, and easier to manage.

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LeanKit Announces Integration Partnership with Focused Objective

Integration offers dramatically improved forecasting and quantitative analysis for Kanban teams
LeanKit, recognized as the leader in electronic Lean/Kanban software, and Focused Objective, makers of the most powerful risk management solution for Lean-Agile management, today announce a partnership to provide customers with an integrated product offering. The combined solution will bring industry leading quantitative analysis to LeanKit’s and Focused Objective’s customer base in an easy to use and immediately available way. This analysis includes forecasting project delivery dates, pinpointing what factors such as: staffing, quality, scope change, etc. are having the greatest impact on delivery dates, and the ability to find what staff skill additions will have the most impact.

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VersionOne and LeanKit Launch Advanced Kanban Solution

Integration Extends Workflow Visualization and Lean Metrics Capabilities
VersionOne, recognized by agile practitioners as the leader in agile management tools, and LeanKit, makers of the Lean software world’s most powerful online Kanban tool, today announced the availability of their integrated solution providing sophisticated Kanban workflow visualization and Lean metrics capabilities. The solution enables organizations to meet the needs of advanced Kanban teams while continuing to consolidate all their agile projects in a single system for multi-level planning, cross-team visibility and rollup reporting across the entire portfolio.

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