Using Kanban to manage projects is easy. You may already be using some form of Kanban and not realize it. For example, if you’ve ever used sticky notes to remind yourself to do something, you’ve used Kanban.
To learn how to create your own kanban board, follow these steps:
- Create a board
- Map your work
- Assign tasks
- Improve your processes
See below for two scenarios of how kanban can help you visualize your work and communicate more effectively.
Scenario #1: Team Visibility
You are a marketing project manager at an advertising agency, and you want the ability to manage your interns more effectively while keeping your own work load in check. Instead of holding status meetings with every intern, every week (something you really don’t have time for), you would like to create a job cue that will show interns what to do next and that will help you understand where each intern is with their particular work.
- Create a new Kanban board. You can create a manual kanban board using sticky notes and a white board, or you can create an online kanban board that is accessible via the Internet. Regardless of what kanban tool you use, start small. It’s easiest to begin with three columns labeled “to-do,” “doing,” and “done.” This is a basic workflow.
- Add rows to the board. Rows can be designated to people, types of work or projects. In this example, the board is only for interns, so we are using rows to identify the type of work based on two types of work: high priority items and busy work. Don’t forget, you can build your kanban board in whatever way reflects the process you already have in place. This happens to be the process you and your team of interns have in place.
- Create tasks. To create a new task using Kanban, simply write a brief description of the task onto a sticky note and add it to the board. The kanban card serves as a signal that the work needs to be done. The task card should contain key information the person assigned will need to complete it.If you are leading a team, it is a good idea to try adding tasks and updating the board as you complete them yourself. This will help you understand how to use a kanban board before you roll it out to the rest of your team.
- Socialize your new board. Have a meeting to explain how the board works (to-do, doing and done). Show your team how to move the cards across the board. Get them to agree to abide by process policies, or rules for how a team will use Kanban. An example of a process policy in this scenario could be that each time an intern moves a card into the “done” column, she pulls in the next task from “to-do”. Process policies are things that everyone on a team is aware of and are meant to make the Kanban process flow more easily. Process policies are easier to establish after you’ve been using Kanban for a while because your team will get a feel for what is working and what is not as they live through the process using the new tools. Changing process policies is to be expected. You can read more about how to decide upon and establish process policies here.
- Set up a daily stand-up meeting for your team to discuss their tasks. The daily stand-up is used by many collaborative teams to help level-set expectations and get everyone on the same page with who is doing what, why the team is working on certain projects, what the priorities are, when work is getting done, task dependencies and so forth. This meeting should take no more than 15 minutes.
It is not uncommon for teams to learn Kanban together, so don’t feel as if you must know everything all at once. Don’t expect your team to learn it right away, either. Applying Kanban to your work can be a trial-and-error process, regardless of experience level or title.
Now that you have a board set up and everyone on your team understands how to use it, it’s time to start flowing in tasks. Here’s another scenario from your imaginary job as a marketing project manager.
Scenario #2: Task Management
You need to go pick up a package from the printer, but you are very busy. You decide to send your intern, Sophia to pick up the package for you. Follow these steps:
- Create a new task card (kanban card) and place it into Sophia’s lane. Remember, a kanban card is nothing more than a sign (or signal) that indicates something needs to be done. Be sure to include all the details Sophia will need to accomplish the task: the name and location of the printer, account number, job name, expected deliverables, etc. Some Kanban software will send an email to Sophia alerting her that she has a new task.
- When Sophia sees the card and is ready to begin working on the task, she should move the task card into the “doing” lane. This tells everyone what Sophia is currently doing.
- Sophia is now armed with all the information she needs to get the task done. She goes to the print shop, picks up the package, comes back to the office and puts the package on your desk.
- At this point, Sophia should move the card from “doing” into “done.”
- Now that Sophia is done, Marc (another intern) can begin distributing the print materials. Marc has been waiting on Sophia. Now that he can see the task in the “done” lane, he can pick up his part of the process.
As you can see, kanban boards can do a great job at helping a team to communicate. Kanban can also provide a visual cue for process steps. However; the success of a kanban board does rely on the cooperation and collaboration of the entire team to be useful in effectively managing projects and tasks.