How to Use the Kanban Framework in a One-on-One Meeting

There are many benefits to using the powerful framework of Kanban meetings during a one-on-one. For this article, partnered with Kanban Zone to provide guidelines on how to use the Kanban framework in your one-on-ones successfully. 

Kanban is a framework that helps organizations structure their workflow by identifying potential issues and bottlenecks. It is a popular framework that embodies lean management principles and that requires real-time communication of capacity and full transparency of work.

Within the Kanban framework, there are many types and subtypes of meetings that can be used to achieve any goal. One specific use for the Kanban framework is during one-on-one meetings with your direct reports to check in on specific projects. Kanban one-on-one meetings will help maximize your team’s efforts and help you properly complete your projects. This article will provide steps to apply this framework during your one-on-ones successfully. After reading this article, Kanban one-on-one meetings may become your new most used management tactic. 

What is Kanban? 

The Kanban Method is a means to design, manage, and improve flow systems. It helps you streamline all the different ongoing tasks while tracking their progress. In Japanese, Kanban stands for “card.” Historically, the concept stems from Toyota, where assembly line workers used cards to communicate when departmental collaboration was required. This process ultimately helped them reduce waste and increase efficiency. Today, the framework helps organizations identify potential issues and bottlenecks in an individual contributor or team’s workflow. This allows them to resolve the issue with optimal workflow efficiency and pace. 

To successfully track progress with this framework, tasks are categorized into three stages: “To-Do,” “In Progress,” and “Completed.” When using a Kanban board, each category is displayed with tasks listed under it to visualize the progress. 

What is a one-on-one meeting? 

One-on-ones are generally defined as a recurring meetings between leaders and their direct reports. They are mainly used to align a manager with their direct reports to understand their priorities, upcoming projects, or potential roadblocks. These types of meetings offer support and guidance, build accountability, and develop relationships by giving or receiving feedback. The outcome of the meeting is often clarity on progress and expectations, combined with actionable advice.

The content and discussion of the meeting change based on the department. For instance, a one-on-one with a CEO and CFO is different from a one-on-one with a marketing manager and marketing coordinator. However, the cadence is generally the same: a personal check-in, discussion on priorities, roadblocks, and a list of the relevant action items. In terms of the cadence, either a weekly or bi-weekly check-in is generally recommended. 

How to Apply the Kanban Framework in a 1:1 Meeting 

During a Kanban one-on-one meeting, attendees will generally check-in and review the tasks at each stage to provide a holistic review of the workflow. Afterward, blockers can be addressed, and tasks can be recategorized based on their status. The sections below will provide a breakdown of each step. 

1. Visualize your workflow 

Whether you are using a Kanban board or tracking this information in a meeting note app, the first step to a successful check-in meeting includes visualizing each category within the Kanban framework – i.e. the tasks that are to be completed, the tasks in progress, and the tasks that have been completed. Additionally, make sure that the relevant tasks have been updated in each category prior to the meeting in order to map out all the stages of your work process. This visual representation will help understand how work is processed and the speed at which it is being processed. 

2. Discuss each stage

Projects listed within each stage can range from being large ongoing projects with multiple stages to small one-time tasks. While you are discussing each stage or category, the direct report should provide a brief overview that contextualizes the task at hand and any progress that was recently made. The progress can vary from task completion to minimal progress. Regardless, the next step will inform why sharing the progress is essential to the framework, even if nothing significant was made. 

Some questions that can serve as prompts when discussing each stage include: 

  • What was achieved last week? 
  • How did I/ the team perform? 
  • What were the priorities last week, and what are the priorities next week? 

3. Assess your WIP 

Work-in-progress, or WIP, refers to the workflow–the number of task items that someone or a team is currently working on. Assessing and limiting your WIP is important mainly because it helps create a smooth workflow and prevent overloads.  Considering how tasks flow encourages higher quality and improved delivery performance. 

In the case where the work-in-progress exceeds the resources available, you should troubleshoot solutions, such as prioritizing or delegating tasks. By restricting the WIP, you optimize work capacity and only add new work when the capacity is available.

4. Discuss the blockers 

As you are discussing the workflow and anything inhibiting productivity, the blockers will naturally be raised throughout the conversation. Roadblocks, or blockers, are obstacles that inhibit someone from successfully proceeding to the next step or completing the task. After raising a blocker, the logical next step is to raise potential solutions. For example, your direct report has not been able to complete the first draft of an e-book writing project because they cannot find supporting resources. As their manager, you could provide an example or help them brainstorm solutions.

Parting advice

The Kanban framework merges nicely with the objectives of a one-on-one meeting. Managers will generally meet in a one-on-one format with their employees to check in and discuss their current work as well as blockers inhibiting their progress. When the Kanban framework is used to shape the discussion of the meeting, managers receive an accurate overview of their direct reports’ progress and the required next steps.

This was a guest blog. Please review our guest blog disclaimer.

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About the Author: Fellow App

8f9bcbecd70649c2660e03fe1e7acfa0?s=72&d=mm&r=g is a one-on-one meeting tool that helps teams have productive meetings and meaningful 1:1s while keeping each other accountable through feedback and action item tracking. It integrates with all your favourite tools, like Slack, Zoom, or Google Calendar and provides high-quality content on various leadership topics.

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