Customizing your Kanban board

Lately, I have seen several blog posts and twitter chats emphasizing the importance of customizing your Kanban board. This applies everywhere, no matter if you use a straightforward linear Kanban board, networked Kanban or even your own personal Kanbanyou need visualize the flow so that it fits the way you work.

This is quite obvious. After all, it’s one of the key elements in Kanban. Still, it’s easy to get stuck in old habits, and soon you end up with a Kanban board that does not support the way you work (or even worse, you change your flow unintentionally to make it fit your board).

Pawel Brodzinski shed some light on the importance of this in a recent post: “We are told to visualize workflow, not to use a specific Kanban board design.”

Pawel also mentioned that he likes working on visualization with people from different industries than software development, as they don’t have the same constraints as the rest of us. I fully agree, we need to look outside the software industry to take a leap forward. As a matter of fact, I wrote a blog post about the abilities needed to do this a few months back – seek inspiration elsewhere. So, if you got a cross-functional team, pay extra attention to people from outside the software industry when creating a new Kanban board.

In Kanban you start off visualizing your process, the way it is right now. Then you move on from there, taking deliberate decisions, improving your process – step by step. Is this the way you start off as well, or do you start with a board design you already know, and adapt the process to fit the board? Maybe it’s a gap between the way the board is designed and the way you work?

Creating a board so that it fits your process, is not always easy, but if we think in new ways there’s a chance end up creating a better board. Here are some ideas, with different strength and weaknesses, that might inspire you to think differently.

Mattias Skarin described 10 different Kanban boards at Crisp blog. I’ve picked three examples, but I highly recommend reading the full paper.

System administration team supporting development and production (note the direction of flow and priority):

Development team with completion prediction:
First line support:
Pawel Brodzinski provided a different example using yellow stickies on tickets to limit the WIP:
Arne Roock showed an example of how to illustrate WIP limits using clips. Whenever a clip is free there’s capacity in the column. When a ticket is finished you can rotate it 45 degrees.
A great example from Kanban School illustrating multiple values streams.
Finally, an example of a personal Kanban board from Vasco Duarte, almost looking like a flow diagram:

The bottom line: Don’t be colored by the examples you see all the time. For many, these examples can be a great place to start, but these are not the only way to visualize your workflow.

Read the following posts, and get inspired to discover the true potential of your Kanban board!

10 Kanban boards and their context:
http://blog.crisp.se/mattiasskarin/files/pdf/10different_kanban_boards_and_their_context_mskarin.pdf

Alternative Kanban Board Design:
http://blog.brodzinski.com/2011/11/alternative-kanban-board.html

What‘s the kanban in Kanban?
http://www.software-kanban.de/2011/11/whats-kanban-in-kanban.html

Kanban and Multiple Value Streams
http://www.kanbanschool.com/10/kanban-and-multiple-value-streams/

Kanban in a networked process — Visualise the network!
http://softwaredevelopmenttoday.blogspot.com/2011/11/kanban-in-networked-process-visualise.html

I would love to collect some new ideas, so please share your Kanban board by sending me a picture on Twitter?

4 Comments

  1. No matter how much I encourage Lunar Logic Polska clients to experiment, I frequently get *apologies* from clients who would like to change their boards in Kanbanery. I’ve now started making sure that every client knows how to customise their board when we start working together, to make sure that they can see how customising is a *healthy sign*.

    Reply
    1. hunskaar

      Very interesting to hear that they (almost) feel they must “apologize” when changing the board. Do you think preset values in an online tool, like Kanbanery, makes it even harder?

      Just for the record: I use Kanbanery, but until now only for my personal Kanban. I like the tool, so the question really applies to online tools in general.

      Reply
  2. Agreed! I think that trying to force fit a team’s workflow into a “standard” Kanban board is a tragic mistake. The team will falter and fumble as they try to conform to a contrived workflow. This can only result in frustration.

    The Kanban board should reflect the current workflow — with all its flaws. As time passes, the team can and will identify ways to improve. That’s what Kanban is all about.

    Reply
    1. hunskaar

      Thanks for your feedback!

      I couldn’t agree more, that’s what we should aim for.

      However, I suspect it’s quite common that we “force” ourselves into a process different from the one we are actually using. That’s why we need to emphasize the importance of this when teaching Kanban.

      Reply

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