If you're not using a kanban board, you're not as productive as you could be

Jack Wallen's eyes were recently opened to the idea of kanban boards. If you've yet to realize how helpful these tools can be, read on and discover the productivity magic that awaits.

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Image: Elnur/Shutterstock

I'm late to the party. Way late. This was mostly by design. What I do for a living isn't something that typically benefits from the likes of project management tools. But then I was tasked with covering kanban boards and discovered the tool isn't just for software engineers and project managers. 

SEE: The future of work: Tools and strategies for the digital workplace (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

It took me maybe two days to find a kanban solution I could tweak just right to fit my needs. So instead of statuses like New, Ready, In Progress, Ready for Test, Done and Archived, I could use Idea, First Draft, Beta Readers, First Round Edits, Second Round Edits, Third Round Edits, Proof Reading and Sent to Publisher. Once I had that setup, the "Ah-ha" light went off over my head and I realized why so many people around the globe depend upon such tools.

They make work and life a lot more productive.

A lot.

Seriously.

It's not just about productivity, but also about accuracy, accountability, trackability and organization. As someone who tends to have several writing projects going at once, it can sometimes get a bit confusing as to which project is in which state. By using a kanban board, I can now tell exactly where each book is in its workflow, who has the manuscript and what's left to be done. I can also get a better idea as to when one project might be finished and how far other projects are from that state.

It all makes so much sense now.

I used to believe kanban boards were designed for managers who liked to get way too micro with their staff and task them into oblivion, take control of their every working moment, and have the ability to hold feet to fire when one area of a project had fallen behind.

Now, I understand this methodology is more about empowering the users, be they developers, designers, data analysts, admins or support. Honestly, it doesn't matter what position you hold. You don't even have to be employed by a company or employed at all to benefit from a kanban. 

Consider these: 

  • A kanban chore board.
  • A kanban cooking board.
  • A kanban study board.
  • A kanban writing board.
  • A kanban board for fantasy sports.

This list can go on and on. In fact, if you can break a task down into constituent parts, chances are good you can use a kanban board.

SEE: Taiga Project Management: Open-source Kanban board is packed with features for developers and non-devs alike (TechRepublic)

What is a kanban board?

Before I continue, let's answer this simple question because not everyone comes into this in the know. Kanban means signboard and is a lean method to manage and improve work across systems that depend on humans. Items for tasks are visualized to give those involved a view of the progress of the task. 

Imagine a spreadsheet that is divided into columns like this:

Beginning

In progress

Peer Review

Testing

Done

Archived




Task 1



Task 2








Task 3








Task 4


Each column represents a state for each task. On the far left is where each task begins and on the far right is where each is completed. As you can see we have four tasks (1, 2, 3 and 4), each of which is in a different state. Task 1 is in Testing, Task 2 is in Beginning, Task 3 is in Peer Review and Task 4 is Done. You can quickly see, at-a-glance, where each task stands in its workflow.

Let's make this more relatable.

CHORE

ASSIGNED

IN PROGRESS

DONE

BATHROOM





DISHES






HOMEWORK



TRASH


So the bathroom chore hasn't been assigned, the dishes task has been assigned, trash is in progress and homework is done. A parent could look at that kanban board and know exactly where chores stand every day. 

That's progress. 

That's efficiency.

That's effective.

Why it took me this long to realize that kanban can apply to just about anything is beyond me. And now that so many people are working from home, without the added bonus of a manager looking over their shoulders at all times, some might need a bit of help staying focused on the lifecycle of a task.

The benefits of using a kanban board

Yes, kanban boards are typically employed by software developers and managers. But given how flexible most kanban platforms are, they can be made useful for any task, team or topic. The benefits of kanban include:

  • Better visualization of workflow.
  • Improved efficiency.
  • Improved collaboration.
  • Increased and balanced productivity.
  • Avoid over tasking team members.
  • Increased focus.
  • Waste reduction.
  • Flexibility.
  • Better time management.
  • Empowers users.
  • Better resource allocation.

Not every benefit will apply to every situation, but that shortlist alone should have you seriously reconsidering your stance that kanban isn't the tool for you. Chances are good a kanban board would make your life easier.

I'm not here to sell you on any given kanban board solution. Although I've found the one that works for me, your needs and demands will vary. What I'm here to do is shrug off that cloud of mystery that may or may not surround kanban boards for you. If you're like me, you've ignored these tools, because they simply didn't apply to your situation. But if you struggle to manage any kind of task or have become so busy you could use a bit of help keeping your workflow organized, a kanban board might be just the thing. And it doesn't matter if you're a part of a team or a one-person show, kanban boards can still help. Although I do work directly with editors, they don't necessarily have to know where any given manuscript or article is in its lifecycle. I, on the other hand, do. And given how much I write, having something to keep me on task and organized has been a real eye-opener.

If you've not given a kanban board consideration, do so. Your daily life will thank you.

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