In this post, I give a short introduction to using a s k Kanban for effective project management.
Just a few years ago, most creative projects followed the s k “waterfall methodology” (Schwalbe, 2015) which in simple terms means that you before initiating a new project write a detailed project specification describing all tasks from start to finish in a linear order.
The problem with planning any large project up front, like an international product launch or the development of a new e-commerce platform, though, is that it is impossible to foresee everything that can and will happen as soon as you start working. A matter of fact, during my 21 year career in the creative industries I have never worked on a large (+6 months) marketing project in the Waterfall maxim which has not ended-up being delayed and costing more money than planned; many times for the simple reason that stakeholders when seeing a project slowly coming to live start to adding features or changing strategy which is perfectly reasonable and in my view also should be encouraged. But still, changes cost money and take time.
2005 I led the development of a bar- and restaurant guide for Jameson Whiskey. It was my first large-scale digital project and about half-through after painfully realizing we were running out of time – and budget, one of my experienced developers, suggested that we should start working in the Lean methodology of project management (Brechner, 2015; Ries, 2011; Stellman, 2014) which I then had no experience of. With nothing to lose, I agreed that we could give it a try and since then I have led more than a hundred projects, and around 30 International product launches in the axiom of ‘Lean’ and using s k Kanban Boards for visualizing planned work, work in progress and finalized tasks.
While I in this post won’t go into detail about the Lean methodology of project management which is documented well in hundreds of books; in the sections below I present a short introduction how to work with a simple Kanban system as an efficient method to break down tasks, prioritize work, limit work in progress and to identify potential bottlenecks.
A simple example on a Kanban workflow
While the Kanban methodology is based on four foundational principles and six Core Practices (Liker, 2004); below follows a description of a simplified Kanban workflow to get you started in five minutes:
- 1. Creating the Kanban
- A Kanban can be as simple as parts of your office wall which you divide into three columns using white tape. In the first column which you name ‘todo,’ you will add all tasks of a project written on simple post-it notes. In the middle column, ‘ongoing,’ you will add tasks (post-its) that you currently work on, and in the right column; ‘done,’ you will move finalized tasks.
- 2. Writing down all tasks
- The first step is to break down all projects tasks into manageable components which then are written on post-it notes and placed in the to-do column.
- 3. Prioritizing
- When all tasks are planned, the next step is to select the two or three tasks which are most urgent and move these into the ‘ongoing’ column.
- 4. Starting to work
- The next step is simply to start working on the tasks added in the ‘ongoing’ column. When a task is finalized you then move it to ‘done’ and picking a new task that you recognize as most urgent from the todo column (which in the lean vernacular is called a backlog), which you then add to the ongoing column. And so on…
- Brechner, E. (2015). Agile project management with Kanban. Redmond, Wash. D.c.: Microsoft.
- Liker, J. (2004). The Toyota way. New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Ries, E. (2011). The lean startup.
- Schwalbe, K. (2015). Information technology project management.
- Stellman, A. (2014). “Learning Agile: Understanding Scrum, XP, Lean, and Kanban”.
- The Economist. (2017). Taiichi Ohno. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/node/13941150 [Accessed 4 Sep. 2017].
- World’s Best Bars. (2017). World’s Best Bars. [online] Available at: https://www.worldsbestbars.com/ [Accessed 4 Sep. 2017].
Why the Kanban works
What makes the Kanban methodology efficient is that it clearly visualize all work that needs to be done. By never having more than two or three tasks in progress which you finalize before selecting a new task, you also work in short sprints of just one or two days after which you prioritize remaining tasks in the backlog (the todo column) and selecting the task that is most urgent at that particular time. This also means that days when you are tired, you might select tasks that are easy and fun, while days you are full of energy you might select more difficult and time-consuming tasks.
As with any project management methodology, there is no such thing as a one-fit-all solution and what works for me might simply not work for you. But if you never tried using the Kanban I highly recommend you to give it a try. For me, this methodology have enabled a more efficient workflow; but more importantly, the method also has helped me finalize projects on time and with a lot less stress.