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:

Alternative Kanban Board Design:

What‘s the kanban in Kanban?

Kanban and Multiple Value Streams

Kanban in a networked process — Visualise the network!

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

Improve team performance – seek inspiration elsewhere

As a teacher, my wife had to step in to avoid a conflict among sixth graders at school. She told me that she would let her students come up with different solutions on how to solve this conflict the following day. I mentioned briefly that she, in this particular case, could use a retrospective technique I have used in several occasions, prioritizing with dots, and let her students vote for the solution they would prefer. 

It slipped my mind for a while, I didn’t even go into details when I mentioned it, but a couple of days later she told me she actually had tried this technique out on her students. Some minor adjustments was necessary to make it more suitable for sixth graders and a chalkboard, but in essence it was the same technique.

She found the results surprising. While she expected the majority to vote for asking an adult for help, and at lower age they probably would, the majority voted for a certain way of solving this on their own – without adult intervention.

Instead of taking the answer for granted she generated new valuable insight of how her students think – and she only spent a few minutes totally. In addition she might have found the tipping point when children start behaving like adults in terms of conflict resolution.

For those of us who embrace agile development, we might find some inspiration in this to bring back to your workplace.

Retrospective can be successfully applied at any age and with all kinds of people, just remember to adapt it to your audience. Even the smallest effort can generate valuable feedback, and you might be surprised of what you find. This can help you improve your team.

My wife tested a new retrospective technique amazingly fast – with almost no preparation. It seems to me that they have a great environment allowing them to experiment. If they make a mistake, they get immediate feedback from theirs students and take a different approach next time. This is an important agile principle, find a faster way to fail, recover, and try again.

Create a climate in your organization that allow people to experiment and innovate, make sure there’s time to do this. Break a few rules. Take a step outside your normal boundaries and seek inspiration elsewhere, for instance see how they use visualization in a first grade classroom – the prototype for a creative learning environment. Some elements might be useful for your agile wall.

Question: Have you ever been inspired by something you have discovered elsewhere, outside your normal domain, and brought it back into your team? And how did it go?

Further reading: