How Kanban boards can simplify your workflow

Agile, scrum, lean and Kanban. Lots of fancy looking words, buzzwords to some, almost religious type processes to others but they all try to help the user to simplify their work.

Lots of people like to make Agile sound like a very complex algorithm that you need a quantum chip computer to demystify. But in my humble opinion it’s pretty damn simple at its core and we’ve all probably been doing it before someone decided to call it Agile.

This is my own straightforward take on agile and how I work.

I am no Agile expert, I have no accreditation and I don’t work in a software engineering team. But this does not mean I cannot adopt something like Kanban and bespoke it for something that fits my needs. 

What I do have at my disposal is a little thing called Google and a hyper driven curious mind. A perfect combination to seek out a better way to organise myself, I hope you would agree.

Like the great Bruce Lee said “Adopt what is useful, discard what is not and add what is uniquely your own” 

This is how I’ve approached my Kanban experience. Now the purists will probably hate this article and that’s cool. I’m just here to share something that has simplified my life and might just help others too.

(For full disclosure: I don’t work in a tech team and I’m not using the Kanban principles in what many will view as their traditional sense. I do however build lots of products. So, I need a way to easily visualise what is going on in my product lifecycle.)

A brief look at Kanban

I’m not going to go deep into what Kanban is or all the history behind it. Far smarter people have already done that, with the best examples of this being here, here and here.

Our good friends at Wikipedia describe Kanban as the following:

Kanban (Japanese 看板, signboard or billboard) is a lean method to manage and improve work across human systems. This approach aims to manage work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks.

Work items are visualized to give participants a view of progress and process, from start to finish—usually via a Kanban board. Work is pulled as capacity permits, rather than work being pushed into the process when requested.

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which aids decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce.”

For the context of this post, the above is all you need to know. I’m not here to add another ‘what is Kanban’ post to the digital world.

It’s key for me to highlight that Kanban itself is not the central point of this story. What I want to share is how I’ve adapted the use of Kanban boards into my workflow and not the full Kanban method.

I’m going to share how I’ve used Kanban boards to simplify my work and provide others with an easy status/progress overview of my work without speaking a word to them. In addition to controlling the chaos of what I need to do for my own sanity.

Before we crack into my experiences, let’s take a quick step back and clarify just what a Kanban board is:

The experts at Kanbanize (awesome name) describe them as:

A tool for workflow visualization and one of the key components of the Kanban method.

And why they are useful

Lack of efficiency is a widespread problem across different project teams. Most of the time, the issue lies in having no clear insight into what the team is doing and what exactly is dragging the productivity down.

Adopting a Kanban board can turn the tide around and help you become more efficient than you ever were by revealing where exactly the team needs to start improving.

Giving people (including me at times) clear insight into what I’m doing, the progress of my work and what stuff is causing me to have stoic moments of silent anger has been key to enable connection across my team.

At its core I had a simple mission:

Visualise what I was doing and where I am in the process in a way my monkey mind can look at daily and go “I got this”

Plus…

A method to easily share with my wider team on the macro pieces of work I’m focused on (aka the big stuff) and break down to a micro level (the projects themselves). With the outcome being that the method is so clear that little conversation if any at all is needed.

After what felt like an eternity of searching on Google (approximately 6 mins to be exact and I might have even gone to page 2 of my results, which is just unheard of in today’s world) I stumbled across a little known thing called a Kanban board. I tend not to over inflate things, but I felt like it was love at first sight.

I was looking for a way to simply show what I was working on. Where everything was in the L&D product lifecycle and what things were causing me to hold onto the happy place for dear life.

And Kanban boards ticked all those boxes for me pretty swiftly. 

How I use this in my work

Here’s an example of a typical kanban board I put together to visualise my work in L&D.

You know what I love about it? The simplicity.

It’s 4 columns of so much of the obvious that my monkey mind cannot get enough of it.

Now as I’ve mentioned countless times in this piece. The above is not the traditional use of Kanban boards. Most teams will use it to break down an individual project and its components.

The method I’ve shared is a bespoke tool that enables me to have a daily visual of where I am in my L&D strategy workflow and for my wider team to see what’s going on in the production line for learning solutions too.

It has yielded many benefits for me personally and enabled simpler conversations with my team.

And for me that is the core principle of a Kanban board, to simplify and bring value.

Perhaps, this is something that can help you too.

Resources for you

Kanban Explained in 10 Minutes

What is a Kanban WIP Limit? Why Do You Need It?

Kanban – A brief introduction

What is a Kanban Board?

What is Kanban?

Kanban (development)

Before you go…

If you like my writing and think “Hey, I’d like to hear more of what this guy has to say” then you’re in luck.

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