A (Very) Brief Introduction to Kanban

The purpose of a Kanban system is to create a visual representation of a workflow that ultimately improves the quality and percentage of tasks completed, minimizes waste, and highlights areas where a process can be improved.

Image obtained from “Kanban Reference Guide and Learning Center”

A Kanban board is segmented into derivations of three basic columns, called “lanes”: (1) To Do; (2) Doing; (3) Done. The lanes can be renamed to fit the needs of the project. To learn more about Kanban, I encourage you to visit everydaykanban.com.

Managing My Workflow

Using the principles above, I created a Kanban board to track my own workflow. The great thing about a Kanban system is that it can be tailored to the needs of any project or organization. The goals for my system were to keep my teams:

  1. On track ensure that tasks are completed on time; minimize the work in process; understand the dependencies of each task;
  2. Organized inform everyone about which tasks are due, overdue, and done; who is responsible for each task; which phase or phases of our project we are in;
  3. Empowered reduce the number of instances where team members feel overwhelmed; promote work satisfaction and morale;
  4. Motivated create a drive to perform, and pride in accomplishing a goal; and
  5. Accountable create a sense of ownership of a task and responsibility to the team
My kanban board

At first, this seemed like a lofty goal for one white board and a few (dozen) sticky notes. However, I put every detail of this board to work so that each aspect contributes to my overall goals. Through this system of lanes, name tags, due dates, and red flags, my team is:

  1. On track because we can easily keep track of where each task is in the workflow, and are continually reminded to reduce our work in process. If there are too many sticky notes in one of the “work in process” lanes, we know that we need to stop, ask ourselves why tasks are building up, and finish a task before starting another one.
  2. Organized because if a team member has a question about what he or she is responsible for, what is coming up due or is overdue, or how close we are to meeting our goal, they know exactly where to look. This avoids confusion, rework, and incomplete assignments.
  3. Empowered because when tasks are presented as a numbered list, or, worse yet, verbally rained-down on a team member all at once, completing a project can feel overwhelming. However, when tasks are presented as pieces of an overall workflow, with separate team members accountable for each task, team members feel more relaxed and empowered to complete their assignments well and on time.
  4. Motivated because as the General Counsel for VillageMD, Wendy Rubas, said during her visit to LegalRnD, “Data triggers people.” Team members can physically see that they are behind on their goal, and are spurred to drive the numbers up. When the goal is met, it allows us to pause and have a moment of celebration and pride for accomplishing a goal. This also tells us it’s time to set new, more ambitious goals.
  5. Accountable because a team member sees his or her name and a due date on a card in one of the “work in process” lanes, and he or she knows that if it is not completed on time, it will receive a red flag. At the next meeting, that team member is asked to explain why something was not completed on time. This is not done as punishment. Rather, it is used to determine how we, as a team, can improve our process so that delays and bottlenecks in work are minimized.

In the future, I may look to an online Kanban platform such as Trello or Leankit to help manage multiple projects or dispersed team members. For now, though, I am very pleased with how I have been able to adapt the Kanban methodology to my organization. I look forward to exploring other project management and process improvement tools in the future.