Is Kanban for me?

Kanban… interesting sounding name, in Japanese it literally means billboard. In the technology world it’s a process management method that can be applied to any development lifecycle. It promises to enhance or streamline the whole development process by making work visible and limiting work in progress.

Sounds promising and certainly was worthwhile for me to take a deeper dive in to it and see if it’s applicable to me or not.

Short answer to the question is, nah. I work in a large organization where staffs are highly specialized in what they do. Project teams are formed based on required resources for a certain period of time, we go at it in some iterative method to deliver what we were suppose to and when we’re done, project team falls apart and everybody is off to the next challenge. A fairly common practice I’d say.

I just couldn’t wrap my head around how this could work in a project where you want to build a product iteratively and collaboratively, and encourage creativity. Kanban just looks too much like something that’s suitable for a factory assembly line (which i’m certain that the Kanban experts would absolutely disagree with me, but this is my take).

Where does it fit then?

Assembly line, exactly. Say you work in an environment where you have a product, and when you sell it to your customers you have to customize it, configure it, package it and ship, install or launch it. Kanban is very suitable for an implementation and delivery team. In Kanban world, the car manufacturer example is commonly used to describe Kanban’s benefits with the goal being: to prepare and deliver a preordered car to the customer’s specs as quickly as possible (colour, options, engine type, etc).

In the software world, the implementation team can use this process management method to bring more visibility to the work that’s in progress or waiting to be started. It gives visibility to where the bottlenecks are so the team can be adjusted accordingly. Had I been in charge of a team that does this kind of activities, I certainly would’ve considered Kanban.

Every request goes through these stages, whether it’s a new implementation or an enhancement: new request is submitted, an analyst works with the customer to get the requirements, goes to a technical team to prepare and package, testing, UAT/sign off, ship, done and then done-done. A simplified chart could look like this:

I found these set of slides very helpful to grasp the Kanban concept in the least amount of time. All credit goes to the creator of the slides, they’ve done a fantastic job.

Kanban to manage my personal tasks…

After concluding that Kanban is not a suitable option for my project/work environment, I looked at in a different light.

“make it visible, limit work in progress, and get more done”

This is exactly what I need to manage my personal tasks. It’s so easy to fall in to that firefighting trap where the day, week or month has been super busy but yet everything I wanted to do to be proactive didn’t get done. The stream of emails and back-to-back meetings doesn’t help the situation and I don’t believe I’m the only product manager who feels this way… so what can we do?

Let’s see if Kanban can help. This is the Kanban board I’m thinking, the goal is to make my tasks visible so I can prioritize better and be more efficient. Likely I’ll have a blog in six months or a year to update how it worked out or if i end up with a better board than this. By the way, i’m not going to call this Kanban, cause it’s not.

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