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Ideas, backlogs, prioritization, and roadblocks all in thirty seconds? I thought this was a pipe dream before I learned about using a Kanban board. A Kanban board is a tool used to visualize tasks and their statuses.

Kanban Board Elements

Within the Kanban Board above, columns are based on the needs of the project.

  • Not Ready – Tasks on the horizon but waiting for more information
  • Ready – Ready to be worked but not started
  • Working – Tasks started but not completed
  • Blocked – Tasks started but cannot be continued
  • Done – Done!

I’m using an online board here, but a physical one works great also. We can quickly assign tasks and prioritize the work. The tasks are color-coded by task owner and our columns let us easily see what is being worked on and by whom, how large our backlog is and how many tasks are being blocked by things outside our control. The visual nature of the board gives us a quick snapshot of the work to see if we have a large backlog if people are over capacity and if there are a lot of items that are being blocked. There’s better risk prevention when we can see these things start to bubble up before it becomes a bigger issue.

Kanban boards are designed to highlight work issues earlier on. Don’t let the simplicity fool you.  Each task may only have a few words to describe it, but the ability to see what’s on everyone’s plate will help mitigate risk and allow you to take initiative on any issues bubbling up.

I recently jumped into a project midway through development. All the tasks were being tracked using a shared spreadsheet which was cumbersome to use since the filters had to be changed all the time and it didn’t allow for easy prioritization. Once I moved the tasks to a Kanban board, our developer was very happy with the visual approach. It helped reduce the number of emails he got since tasks were quicker to create than emails, it allowed him to only look at what was the most important items for the day and it allowed for a quick discussion on status.

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