To Do List

Kanban To Do List: Trusty To-Do List – But Better

6 Min Read
Kanban To Do List: Trusty To-Do List – But Better

We all love a to-do list, don’t we! Whether we’re planning for our holiday, listing what chores need to be done, or planning our tasks for a day at work – a list is our trusty friend when it comes to sorting out all the tasks whizzing about our heads. The satisfaction of the completion tick, or the bold strikethrough – is one we can all relate to!

Whilst over the years to-do lists have developed, digitalised for cloud-based platforms, and adapted into project-management tools in all sorts of organisations, the standard to-do list does have its limitations – especially in businesses.  

The first is the lack of context. In shared tasks, unless you’ve given a huge of background information (which can be confusing, and diverts away from the whole point of a list!), it can be difficult to distinguish context, especially if multiple team members are working on it. It can all become complicated too easily. 

The second is a priority. Unless you specifically number the tasks, a list of jobs doesn’t tell you which are most important. Tasks get done in the wrong order, and well… you’ve got a complicated mix of chaos. Remember, team members will interpret the list in their own way and will start the task first that they deem most important. This may not be their fault, it may be a simple lack of miscommunication or information… but either way, the simple to-do list does not prevent this from happening. 

That’s why, as an organisation, you need the optimum to-do list tool – Kanban.

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So, what is Kanban?

Kanban is, by definition, a visual method that helps you manage your workflow efficiently and productively – developed as a system of Lean thinking. The Lean Methodology, introduced by the Japanese car manufacturer, aims to minimise waste and to add more value to the final product or service. Kanban was introduced by Toyota as a visualised scheduling system of tasks and has since found its way into all other sectors across the globe – in software development, IT and many more. 

It was in 2007 however, that the Kanban method we know today was introduced – formulated by a man named David J. Anderson, who proposed the Kanban board.

How to create your Kanban to do list

To build your Kanban board, start with the 3 basic columns – ‘requested,’ ‘in progress,’ and ‘done.’ Essentially, the board acts as a real-time indicator of progress and will highlight where bottlenecks form in the production line. 

These columns can be adapted to suit your business – for example, you could start adding ‘to do – today’ and ‘to do – tomorrow.’ This makes it suitable for all sorts of organisations.

Now let’s look at the 4 core principles and 6 core practices that make this Kanban the ultimate to-do list.

The 4 Core Principles of Kanban

  • Start with what you know
    The Kanban is an extremely flexible tool that can be overlaid on to pretty much any system, process or workflow. It doesn’t require sweeping changes, and so its implementation isn’t as much of a culture shock to the organisation. It naturally highlights issues for addressing – and so processes can be improved overtime.
  • Agree to Pursue Incremental, Evolutionary Change
    Continuing along the theme of lessening the culture shock, the Kanban method is designed in a way that minimises resistance from employees. The idea is not to make sweeping changes that could invoke fear, anxiety or uncertainty in employees. In fact, it encourages continuous small incremental and evolutionary changes (baby steps!), to make the necessary changes, but in a healthy and non-disruptive way. 
  • Respect the Current Process, Roles & Responsibilities
    Recognising that current responsibilities, workflows, processes, titles and roles have value and should be preserved is a key element of Kanban. Whilst change is not prohibited, it is not completely necessary either (don’t fix it if it’s not broken!). The design simply promotes change when and where it’s needed.
  •  Encourage Acts of Leadership at All Levels
    Whilst the first three principles were designed to avoid emotional resistance to change, the newest Kanban principle is the reminder that acts of leadership are present every day, in all members of the team. It’s not just a management level activity, it is present in frontline staff. This helps to encourage feelings of autonomy, self-confidence and the need for continuous improvement.

The 6 Core Kanban Practices

In order for the Kanban method to be practically introduced to an organisation, there are 6 simple steps (as outlined in Anderson’s book) that you should follow.

  • Visualise the workflow
    To create a visual Kanban system, you will need a board which has columns and cards – the columns representing a step in your workflow, the cards representing a task. It is important to understand the steps it takes to convert a request into the deliverable product or service. This will be influential on how you set up your board – the column titles, and the different cards you add. For example, will you add tasks in a more granular fashion – up to twenty minutes, half an hour? Or full day tasks?
  • Limit Work in Progress
    A key element of Kanban is to ensure that active, work-in-progress items are kept to a minimum at any one time. This ensures that the focus is maintained on one, or just a few particular work tasks, and this focus is not switching. This ‘pull-system’ stresses that there are a maximum number of cards per step, and cards are only switched from one to the other when there is the available capacity. This highlights where constraints may be hiding in your processes, so you can resolve them.
  • Manage WorkFlow
    By flow, we don’t mean people – we mean the work tasks. Task management.
    In order to create a healthy workflow, you can’t micromanage your workforce. Keeping them busy at all times does not equate to higher profits or productivity, but ensuring that work tasks flow smoothly and healthily through the system does!
  • Make Process Policies Explicit
    To improve something, you need to properly understand it first. Therefore, processes should be defined clearly, and circulated to all – demonstrating its usefulness. It’s the only way to get people on board – make them realise the benefits of the process, encouraging them to work towards the common goal.
  • Feedback Loops
    This should be considered a mandatory step for any company or team that wants to be more agile. The Kanban board can be presented in team meetings – offering a great way for the team to share what was and is on their agenda. 
    Although dependent on a number of factors, these feedback sessions should be restricted on timings, to ensure that the meetings don’t end up being unnecessarily long. But they should be regular – and straight to the point.
  • Improve Collaboratively (using models & the scientific method)
    Like we said, having a common goal encourages and inspires employees to work together to improve and ultimately achieve. It is all; about creating that mindset and culture, and it is true what they say – multiple minds are always better than one.

Are you ready to transform your to-do list?

Whilst we hope that we haven’t completely overturned the standard to-do list for you, we do hope that you have seen some of the potential benefits of switching to Kanban for your business. 

Especially with the monumental increase in working from home, there does need to be some form of organised communication between the different members of the team, and Kanban allows for this. It also allows you and your colleagues to continually improve your business workflow and processes – which is never a bad thing.

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