When I Use It and When I Dont.
By now you have probably seen the image of the team standing a at a whiteboard or office wall studying a colorful mosaic of stickies.The board doesnt always look the same: sometimes its messy, sometimes its neat, and youve likely asked the question: What is this thing they are staring at? Its called the kanban system, and it is designed to help teams overcome the stress and chaos of a neverending to-do lists and barrage of requests. The kanban system is one of the most vital tools in the Agile Methodology Toolkit.
At Eigenworks we often prescribe kanban to those champions holding challenging competitive intelligence (CI) roles, but it works just as well for those in marketing, product marketing, and other project management scenarios.
Why does kanban work so well with so many different roles?
- Its an excellent visual representation of work-in-progress (WIP).
- It encourages self-managed processes, workflows, and deadlines.
- It improves team communication and collaboration and reduces stress.
- It helps pinpoint bottlenecks and inspires actions that widen them.
So what is kanban?
A kanban is a task board that details the work and the journey to its completion. It shows upcoming tasks, tasks that are in-progress, and completed tasks and upcoming tasks: backlog, doing, done. Tasks can be represented by actual cards or stickies and can be arranged within a few (or many) columns, drawn on a whiteboard. We use whiteboard and the walls in our office. There are also virtual kanbans like Leankit.
Team vs Individual
I love kanban because it makes team collaboration easy, and it limits WIP. Limiting WIP aligns your team’s capacity with the work to be done (or tasks per column). You can also limit per person or team. Limiting work increases focus, decreases multitasking and bottlenecks. The idea is that kanban can replace to-do lists, or at least replace the daily rewriting of a to-do list. I have tried this myself, and inevitably go back to the comfort of my list. When it comes to planning my day and week, I like the list. Ive been known to work very late just to see that last item crossed off on my to-do list: I enjoy the endorphin rush that comes when my pen strikes-through the last item, and Im sure Im not alone. I get the same sensation when our kanban team moves tasks from the doing column to done. I like to leave those stickies in the done column for a while – it gives you immense satisfaction of seeing what you have accomplished! It sure beats that sensation you get when you have a massive to-do list (aka wish-list) and the task requests from your team are relentless and/or coming-in from different or competing business units. Kanban helps organize that flood. Kanban doesnt replace the daily to-do list, but it can replace the wish-list your company plopped in your lap.
Its part of a larger organizational revolution in marketing, hence the proliferation of Agile marketing approaches, and kanban-like tools aimed at helping the people in these roles. This is why Eigenworks created an Agile CI program. Most, if not all CI people I talk to are bombarded with questions and requests from marketing and sales, requests for details on competitors, and the sometimes out-of-the-blue we-need-answers-now-now-now from their executive leadership. You need a system to manage it, and that system is kanban.
To-do lists work for your day, but if you want to manage expectations, limit WIP, and help create a shared system that encourages collaboration, you need to get Agile and try a kanban.
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