A blog by Erica Virtue.
By Arel English.
For about the past 10 months, I’ve been using Kanban boards to manage everyone on the Vitogo team. Kanban boards help visualize jobs and projects, and give everyone on the team a better idea of how each piece of the project fits into the bigger picture, and when to work on what.
This past week, I went out to Shelter Island, NY to help a community sailing program get ready for the summer, which involves hundreds of tasks, some huge, and some tiny. Since Kanban has worked so well for Vitogo, I decided to see if I could use a Kanban board to improve productivity in a physical work environment at the sailing center.
The first step was to set up the Kanban board in the workshop with all the jobs that needed to be done. We started by breaking up large jobs into small manageable tasks, and writing them down on post-it notes we call “cards”.
Above is the beginning of our Kanban board. The Queue is where all jobs and ideas are placed. E+A is Elaboration and Acceptance, where a card is broken up into smaller more manageable tasks, rejected as unneeded or redundant, or simply moved on into “In Progress.” In Prog. is where cards go when someone is working on them so that everyone knows that they don’t need to worry about that task. Finally, Done! is where finished cards end up. It’s satisfying to move a card to done, and it’s also nice to see your team’s progress as the Done! column fills up. The last area on the board is Express. The “Express Lane” is for tasks that have a high priority. An example of an express lane job in software development is a big bug. An example at the sailing center is if someone crashed a boat that needed to be fixed right away.
After about a day working with the Kanban board, we realized we needed a way to visually split up the different types of jobs, so we added different colored post-it notes for the different work areas.
As you can see, yellow cards were for sailboats, green for anything land based (like cleaning up the shop), blue cards were for motorboat jobs, and pink cards were for anything on the water (like fixing a dock).
Later, we added a sub-category called On Order to the “In Progress” column to indicate a task that was waiting for a part to arrive before it could be finished.
You can see below that the number of tasks we had to get through added up quickly:
Here is a before picture of the sailboat, motorboat, and on land work that was in the Queue waiting to be done.
An In Progress picture.
And a Done! picture. The motorboat is already in the water.
A before picture of some of the dock work.
And after pictures.
And the dock moored out on the water in the Done! column.
Before starting this experiment, I was skeptical of a Kanban board’s ability to make a productivity improvement in this type of work environment, especially with only three employees and a fairly small number of big jobs that needed to be completed. In the end though, we were able to accomplish about as much in one week as we have in about three weeks in past years. Some of the productivity gains were attributable to simple things like making fewer trips to the hardware store because of better foresight about what was going to be needed, other big gains in productivity were from not forgetting small details that can waste large amounts of time because of setup and clean up time. Another big productivity gain came simply from everyone knowing exactly what to do once they finished a task, without having to confer with someone else.
There were more than just productivity gains from using the Kanban board though. Each member of the team felt better about doing more unpleasant work, because they could see how it fit into the bigger picture, and there was an overall boost in morale around seeing cards fly from the Queue to the Done! column.
Seeing that Done! column filled up feels great for everyone on your team.
So the bottom line is, if you aren’t already using a Kanban board for your project management, you should give it a try. You’ll probably love it. There are also some awesome online Kanban boards you can use which are especially useful for managing distributed teams. My favorites are Trello and Lean Kit Kanban. Trello is totally free, has some great features and has an alright iPhone app. Lean Kit costs money, but has a free tier, an awesome iPad app, and some cool ways you can split up columns - adding an “On Order” sub section to “In Progress,” for example.
So, try out Kanban boards, regardless of what you’re managing. It’s a great way to increase productivity, while keeping your team focused and happy.