How to use KANBAN: An effective productivity method for innovative ideas

How to use KANBAN: An effective productivity method for innovative ideas


Agile software development

How do you manage projects where the requirements are likely to change frequently.

Or where teams might be independently working on multiple aspects separately but simultaneously.

One management method which might be of interest is KANBAN.

It originated as part of the Toyota Production System as part of their Lean Manufacturing Method, and is a method for scheduling in which sequence work should be done to achieve a desired outcome.

However, in has also been adapted as one of the most popular management methods in Software development and Innovation / Lean Startup methods.

In order to use KANBAN, a team would define a sequence of steps which any piece of work needs to flow through. A common high-level example of this sequence for software development might be as follows:

  • Backlog: All new ideas where there is not yet capacity to start are put in a backlog
  • To Do: Those ideas which are deemed as a higher priority than all others are then put into the “To Do” list, meaning that they will be the next priorities to be worked on once capacity becomes available
  • In Progress: These are all of the ideas which are currently being actively worked on. Many teams might have more detailed sub-sequences listed here as well, such as:
    • Analysis
    • Design
    • Development
  • Testing: Once the development is complete and before the idea is launched, it will usually be tested
  • Done: Ideas or work which have been completed are then categorised as complete, or “done”

Once a piece of work has completed its required work for that part of the sequence, it is moved on to the next stage in the sequence. This often also frees up capacity for a new piece of work to begin, especially when a piece of work is completed.

Many teams will create a KANBAN board which then lists out all of the activities and which sequence status they are in.

Some teams might use a physical KANBAN board, where they list out requests, ideas or pieces of work on Post it Notes, and physically move the note along the board from left to right as the work is done.

Other teams will use digital management software which can automatically create KANBAN boards, like JIRA, Trello or Monday.com.

There are several benefits which KANBAN brings:

  1. It can help teams visualise workload across various team members and sub-teams
  2. It can help teams plan out resources for current and upcoming work
  3. It can help management understand resource and capacity constraints (such as if there are limited people able to do Testing work, and all pieces of work eventually need to flow through them, it could create a bottleneck).
  4. It can help track the full list of potential work, and put the emphasis on prioritising which work to start next
  5. It helps keep a visual representation of progress, or lack of progress

So if your innovation team needs a system for managing multiple streams of smaller projects, KANBAN can be a useful tool to have in your arsenal.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.

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