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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Me and My Kanban

(also posted on

There has been a trending interest in Kanban Boards, a tool that helps teams visualize their workflows, limit work in progress and get more “done”.   Kanban Boards are mostly associated with Agile Scrum teams as a collaborative means of seeing the burndown of a sprint.   In fact, Scrum and Kanban are considered to be so interdependent that a new framework called Scrumban is starting to emerge.   However, Kanban is not limited to Agile.  A Kanban board can be very useful for any project or scope of work that would benefit from visualization. 

The premise behind the Kanban is almost deceptively simple.  A board is built with three columns:  “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Done”.   At the start of each sprint, all of the work that needs to be completed is captured on individual sticky notes and placed in the “To Do” column.  When the task or work is actually being undertaken, the note moves into the “In Progress” column.  Upon completion, it is moved to the “Done” column.   If the team has successfully completed the work that was planned for a sprint, all of the cards that began in the “To Do” column will end in the “Done” column.  Any other result opens the opportunity for questions about impediments, team velocity (the ability to absorb work) and sprint planning.

You will often see team kanban boards built on whiteboards and peppered with multi-colored sticky notes.  There is also a great online tool ( that offers a virtual team Kanban board with many of the same characteristics (including virtual sticky notes.  If the three columns are too basic, you can certainly add more columns because of the nature of the project.   The only caution is that it is easy to inadvertently make deceptively simple into overly complex.  Beware!

I have recently started to use a personal Kanban board to manage my own workload.  While not perfect, I have seen a significant improvement in my ability to get things done.   It also helps to keep me organized and focused.   I like moving the sticky notes around.

To begin, I created a backlog column with a colored note for each of my outstanding tasks.  The list is never-ending so notes are added to the backlog just about every day.  At the start of each week, I re-prioritize the backlog to ensure that deadlines and other considerations are addressed.  I then take a reasonable chunk of tasks off the top and add each note to the “To Do” column.  These are my goals for the week.  When I start to work on a particular task, I move its note into the “In Progress” column.  Upon completion, the note is moved to “Done”.   At the end of the week, I celebrate what I have accomplished and analyze what was left behind.   

If a note stays in the “In Progress” column for too long or moves back to “To Do”, I have to question why.  Did I overestimate my velocity or time it would take to complete a task?  Have I been faced with extensive interruptions or unplanned work?  Was I waiting on someone else?   The visualization of the Kanban board helps me understand my own patterns of work and recognize how I contribute to or impact the results of my team.  

I highly recommend that everyone to set up a personal Kanban, whether for work tasks or home tasks.  You can use the whiteboard in your office or set up a free basic online board through LeanKit  (   The results were be very interesting.

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