How To Solve The Biggest Problems With Kanban

I must admit; I am a productivity geek. I am always looking for new ways to do something more efficiently or getting a handle on what needs to get done. I am a fan of some of the modern techniques like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, as well as just writing tasks down and finishing the first one and moving to the next one.

One thing I think these techniques lack is giving folks a view into WIP or Work In Progress. As more work is added, it would be useful to visually see what currently is in progress. Through Eric Wright, this is where I discovered Kanban. Kanban is a visual display of work — its shows what needs to be done, what is complete, what’s delayed (.. because you are waiting for something from someone) and finally the most important I think, work in progress (WIP).

Here is a pretty cool video that explains Kanban, I think you’ll like it.

I am no expert at Kanban but at the same time it’s so simple that anyone can do it. As with anything you can get as elaborate as you would like or keep it simple. You need to be aware of two rules with Kanban

  • Visualize your work
  • Limit your work in progress

If you can master those two items, I think you are on your way to getting control of your work and being more efficient with your time and energy.

My DIY Kanban Home Setup

The setup I have at home is very simple; I purchased the large post-it notes — I think they are called Big Pads. I have placed two on my wall. On the first one its just blank, nothing written on it. This is where you will be placing all your tasks.

On the other one, I have drawn three columns one called Ready, Doing, and Done.

Visualize your work

The idea here is to list out each task you need to complete on a post-it note, one task, one post-it note (These would be the regular smaller post-it notes). Place those tasks into the first large post-it, as many as you can. Collecting items here gives you a visual idea of what you need to complete. Think of this as a temporary storage area for your tasks or your Backlog.

Now it’s time to get started, as you begin, select several tasks and move those post-it notes into the Ready section. These are the items you are getting ready to work on, move as many as you like but be realistic.

Now from the Ready section, move three to five post-it notes you think you can complete to the Doing section. You have now started the workflow around Kanban, things go from Backlog — Ready — Doing to Done.

As you complete the items in Doing you, then move that post-it to Done and move an item from the Ready section into Doing. You can also move an item from your Backlog to Ready. You can prioritize any way that suits you when choosing which tasks to move from Backlog to Ready.

Limit your work in progress

The key to the system I think is you can visualize what you have in your doing section. Especially when working in teams, others can view what you have on the go currently and as tasks slow down, we can see where the bottleneck is.

I suggest, and I know others do as well, to have about 3–5 tasks in your WIP or Doing category, anything over that, and it will become your bottleneck. This flow does help move tasks along the process. I saw an immediate change in how quickly I was able to close out deliverables. I think the fact that you can see the flow and tasks helps a lot.

I am doing it the old fashion way, but I do know there is software you can use if you prefer to share across teams — there is a lot of value in that.

Let me know what you think about Kanban, how do you manage your tasks? Add your comments below and lets all become more effective at what we do.

Originally published at on November 6, 2015.

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