TECH TALK

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Yes I Kanban, and So Can You!
by Dana DeFebbo

Howdy, Tech Talkers! Dana DeFebbo here filling in temporarily for Jenna as she finishes her PhD program. Since writing my first Tech Talk column in July of 2013, I have moved to Austin, TX, the land of killer breakfast tacos, live music, and a major hub for tech companies like Google, IBM, and Apple. This month I’m covering a project management method called Kanban that I have picked up from the local tech community.

While I would love to focus on how you can introduce these tools to your respective organizations, it is often hard to get organizational buy in for new tools without having personally used them first. Therefore, I’m going to focus on how you can use this project management system and corresponding tools to manage your own personal projects at work and at home.

First a brief intro to Kanban. Kanban was first developed in Japan by Toyota Motor Company. It was intended to show transparency and make sure everyone from line workers to managers saw the whole process and not just pieces of it. Many major players in the software industry have adopted Kanban into their work flow, especially when they are employing the Agile project management methodology because it focuses on teams and collaboration.

Two main elements of Kanban are:
This process can be done in a no-tech way with sticky notes and a flat surface or it can be done electronically with software.

No-Tech Kanban

Using Kanban to manage and prioritize your tasks doesn't require any software at all. You can simply use sticky notes and a flat surface, most often a wall or a whiteboard. You then make at minimum three columns to designate work to be done, work in progress, and completed work.

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As you start working on tasks, you move the sticky note from the To Do stage to the In Progress stage, and then to the Completed stage once they are finished. Kanban goes one step further by imposing limits on how many tasks are allowed to remain in the In Progress stage before beginning to work on new tasks. Imposing this limit forces you to prioritize your tasks and it also limits how many tasks you try to do at any one time. Limiting your WIP may also reduce the burnout you might feel when trying to multitask. The limit is arbitrary and should be set by you. It could be 1 or 10, or any other number you specify. For me personally, I have set my work in progress limit at 3.

You may find that the basic three column layout is not flexible enough for you. Maybe you would like to add a column for "Waiting" if you are waiting for a reply or further action from someone else. Or maybe you might want to add another column for Hold if something that you are working on has become stalled. This is a way to remove things from your To Do or WIP columns that are not finished but now have a low priority to complete. You can find more examples of Personal Kanban boards with a Google Image search: http://goo.gl/ug8b6Q

Trello

Trello (https://www.trello.com) is a virtual Kanban board that has a bit more functionality than a physical one. It is also useful for collaborating with team members. At its core, it is a simple cloud based Kanban board where you can create tasks that you can drag and drop from one column to another as you complete them.

Here are some features that you get using Trello that do not exist with a physical Kanban:
  1. Labels for filtering tasks
  2. Subtasks
  3. Due Dates
  4. Attachments
  5. Collaboration with other people
  6. Assign tasks to people
  7. Calendar integration
  8. Notifications of activity
  9. Integration* with other apps like Dropbox, Slack, etc.
*free accounts are allowed only one integration, vs unlimited with paid accounts.

If you are considering giving Kanban a try, I recommend starting out with the simple no-tech method of sticky notes and a wall. As you get more comfortable with the process, you will likely find that you would like increased functionality that the physical process can't give you and makes it easier to transition to a virtual version.

Copyright 2017 by Dana DeFebbo.

About the author:

Dana DeFebbo is currently the Web Services Librarian at the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. She received her MSIS for the State University of New York at Albany and has worked in academic libraries for the past 11 years.