If you were to ask me “Why use a Kanban board?”, I want you to read a short story before answering.
The Problems of Modern Dispersed Teams
Several years ago, I worked in an international company that has offices in over 60 countries… And like most big corporations, they have their market separated by geographical regions. For each region, there’s a head office that gives market-specific directives, like deciding on products to be promoted in the next local marketing campaign, overviewing sales on a regional level, etc. But there were also several global departments operating from different locations, with teams or individuals servicing each separate market. And this is also nothing new or unusual, right?
And depending on the task at hand, I was working with either people from our regional head office, my direct manager and the country manager or all of the above. Also, very often, I was working with some of the global teams. Due to this complex structure and unclear information stream, there were often moments of confusion and miscommunication. Information was late, teams were uncoordinated, deadlines missed.
Numerous times I was faced with not having the necessary information so I can work on a task or needed to make changes after the deadline passed. Once, I handed over project documents where two different teams were proofing the data and creating the design, but the teams where following different schedules. Of course, it was my fault that I wanted to open the ‘closed’ project and make changes. Occasionally, much-needed info regarding a global campaign (that we were adapting locally) would come in late from the local office. Projects would get discarded couple of days before the deadline – after you’ve done almost all of the work… And these are just a few examples of the chaos and havoc I was facing each day.
I couldn’t plan anything, couldn’t finish work during working hours. I was getting more work done in a couple of hours at home than in eight hours at the office. It was frustrating. I didn’t have any free time, and in the rare moments when I did, I was pressuring myself to work and get something done ahead of time.
I even tried printing out a simple calendar where I wrote down all the upcoming tasks with deadlines. But it was a futile effort since I was constantly scratching over it, adding things, moving them… It was useless. There was no way you can make even a daily to-do list and actually complete the tasks. There were always changes, always something more urgent… Because the global teams weren’t coordinated. As a result, regional and local teams were out of sync too.
And there was nothing I can do about it, but accept it. Luckily, I stayed there for only one year.
But why did I tell you this story? I’m glad you asked :)
The Kanban Method
We’ve talked about Kanban many times. But what I want you to remember now, is that Kanban is a methodology that helps you organize your work better and use your resources more efficiently. Learning how to use a Kanban board can help create an environment where information flows freely and are available to everyone involved. It eliminates the need for micro-management and stimulates people to work smarter. And in the end, deliver more value, faster.
Here’s how it helps. And three important reasons why use a Kanban board.
Keeps Project Tasks Organized
The beauty of a Kanban board is that it uses visualization to show you the whole process. All its stages clearly showcased on a single board where you can see all upcoming, completed, and tasks you are working on. Ordered by priority, organized by process stage and type. Together with all their data and dependencies. The whole project work is organized so project managers and team members can easily sort through the tasks by using visual cues. Neat, right?
Improves Collaboration and Communication
On a Kanban board, everything is transparent and you have all the information in one place. By understanding how to use a Kanban board efficiently, it becomes very easy to work on your tasks. It eliminates the need to go through endless email threads or spend hours in meetings and phone calls to get a simple ‘yes’. Tasks are moving through columns that correspond with the process stages.
So, when using a digital Kanban tool, whether you are working from the same location or remotely, you will always be able to see the card’s movement on the board and know the project’s status. Once one team member finishes his work, he can just move the card in the next column, and the other person can take over. Moreover, cards can store information, attachments, comments, which makes it really simple to convey all task related info.
The Kanban board allows a simple walk-through without a lot of details. It makes it easier to understand the current status of a task, and what needs to be done now. It also means setting reasonable limits of how much work can be in progress in each project stage. That removes the workload stress and allows team members to work efficiently. They can focus on one task at a time, and pull in new tasks only when they have they finished some of their ongoing work -when have the capacity to take on more work.
There are many more reasons why you should use a Kanban board, especially when it comes to project management. And if we take my previous experience as an example, it’s safe to say we can conclude that the company, and its employees, can greatly benefit from implementing the Kanban methodology and using Kanban boards. Then, instead of dealing with incoherent and uncoordinated information and process flows, a Kanban board will help them get a clear picture of all the work that needs to be done. Thus they can plan project better, monitor progress, analyze results and make the necessary adjustments to improve their process. And ultimately, create a process flow where work gets done faster, with less waste and more value.
So the question you should be asking yourself is not “why use a Kanban board?”, but why haven’t I used one so far?
P.S. Yes, my horror-workplace story is true. It was even worse than that, but if I added all the details it would be a 3-part series. If you are a manager, please please consider implementing a digital Kanban tool. If you are an employee, I urge you to suggest Kanban to your managers! Don’t go through the same (unnecessary) problems I did.