I’m working on materials to train my colleagues next week on how to use a Kanban board to manage their work. I’m including one major lesson that I learned by using it, and I thought that it would benefit you as well:
It should represent reality.
There are a few excellent reasons why it should represent reality and not how you want things to be.
When you start out, your backlog should contain every task that you have on your plate. You may have a huge backlog because you have so much on your plate, and it may give you heartburn. Good. It represents how things really are right now, and you’ve taken the first step towards managing your tasks instead of them managing you.
Since a Kanban board can be used as a process improvement tool, it’s tempting to set it up to reflect a process that you wish you were doing instead of what you’re currently doing. Change can be hard, and setting up to represent the ideal scenario can complicate things. It can be hard enough adjusting your workflow management habits by using a Kanban board, but it’s doubly hard adjusting to a Kanban board and adjusting your habits to a new process. Changing two major things at a time is setting yourself up for failure.
One time, I realized that I was about to go over my work in progress limit in the “Doing” column. I knew that this was something I did not want to do, so I tried moving something else out of the “Doing” column and temporarily pause working on it. After a while, I realized that I still had to continue working on it, even if it was just by chipping away at it.
When you find yourself in this situation, put the extra item in your “Doing” column if you know you have to immediately start working on it. This will help you identify the fact that you have a bottleneck and are doing too many things at the same time. Once you’ve come to that reality, you can figure out what you need to do to break that bottleneck, including by prioritizing the items in the “Doing” column by importance to see which one needs to get done first.
Using a Kanban board to manage your personal workflow can be extremely effective, but only if it represents how things are. Get comfortable enough using the Kanban board, and then you can identify process improvements and implement them.
What lessons have you learned from using a Kanban board?