Addicted to novelty since 2001

Kanban Keeps Me On Task

Last fall, a programmer friend of mine explained the task management system called Kanban. The concept originates from a Japanese system of just-in-time production in factories and such, though I’m not sure how relevant that is to how I’m using it. Here’s a two-minute video explaining some of the philosophy in a manufacturing context. I also understand that Kanban is popular in agile programming.

For me, it’s a real-world task list arranged into three columns: queue, current tasks and completed tasks. An important aspect of Kanban is that the system be highly visible, usually on a wall. Here’s our very simple setup in our home office:

Kanban Setup

You can see more photos of kanban setups here.

The visibility enables other team members to see what you’re working on. The physicality of the system feels important, in that you’re actually moving the sticky notes as you complete and queue up tasks. A friend compared it to the tile system that air traffic controllers use. In the terms of original concept, each of the sticky notes is a ‘kanban’.

At Capulet and at a client site, we’ve found it to be a simple but effective way to manage tasks, a real improvement over plain text lists or Remember the Milk. I’ve sold a few other people on Kanban, and they seem to dig it too. It’s like I’m in the Getting Things Done For Dummies cult.

If you have diffiiculty keeping track of your and your coworkers tasks, I’d recommend giving Kanban a try.

5 Responses to “Kanban Keeps Me On Task”

  1. Duane Storey

    That’s pretty cool. I spent my first two years out of school as a manufacturing engineer out in Ottawa, and helped take a manufacturing line into Lean concepts such as these. It’s cool to see them applied in other areas.

  2. Beth

    I’m currently learning about applying Lean to the health care system. Neat to see it in use!

  3. Chris Simmons

    Yay for Kanban! I’ve started implementing Kanban at work, both for my teams and others – I’m acting as a sort of Kanban coach. What you describe is ‘personal kanban’, which is gaining some traction, though I use it in more of a programming environment.

    The key to kanban is continuous improvement. Too many items ‘in progress’ that are blocked on hearing back from a client? Create a new ‘waiting for client’ column, then limit the amount of of items in it. Then, if you have, say, 5 items in ‘waiting for client’, make a rule where you don’t start on something else – instead, do what you can to remove the bottleneck (i.e. Ping you customer), or clear out some non-customer-centric tasks.

    I could go on for hours on this subject (and have – I’m currently reviewing a book on Kanban for software systems), but I’ll just say it’s great to see it gaining adoption outside of strictly tech circles.

  4. Susan Main

    Thanks for this. I’m always glad to try a new tool for keeping organized. Now I’m looking at the wall in my home office, trying to decide where to make room. Hmmm… maybe the wonderfully tacky velvet painting…

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