Kanban Saved My Sanity


I started to use the Kanban project management methodology just before Christmas 2015 and I can honestly say it is one of the best things I have done for my business.

It has given me huge amounts of clarity into who is doing what, when and how much progress is being made.  It allows me to confidently schedule new projects without killing myself and my team with too much work.

Using a combination of Trello boards and Groove helpdesk to do the actual work, calm has descended on WP Dude HQ.

The Problem

At WPDude we do a large number of small projects.  A typical project is about a day in length.

These types of project don’t fit into the existing model of a helpdesk which has large numbers of small tickets that take a number of minutes to fix, and they are not large multi day/week projects that need lots of client interaction and use a normal project management tool like Basecamp.

We use a helpdesk ticketing system to do the actual work and communicate with our clients, that’s great when doing the work, but as a project manager, trying to figure out who is working on what and when I can schedule in a new project is not something I can do with helpdesk software.

The typical list generated by a helpdesk is  completely overwhelming.  Here is the view of the top of my tickets,  Groove gives me, it’s just a huge long list of work to be done and it goes on and on.



At times I would groan when I saw the list, how can I schedule this work, how can I streamline and get this done without piling up massive amounts of work on myself and my team?

Enter Kanban.

Huge Hat Tip

Not just a hat tip, I prostrate myself at the feet of Frank Degenaar for showing me the light of Kanban in this post  http://www.productivitymashup.com/blog/2014/7/17/kanban-calendar-preamble

What Is Kanban

Kanban is a project management methodology that allows us to visualise the work to be done, and make it manageable by limiting the work in progress at any one time by a member of that team.

Kanban came out of the Just In Time processes developed at Toyota, here is a good Wikipedia article for more history about Kanban.

It’s not a rigid set of rules like Prince Methodology, rather it’s a flexible way to break down your work (or even a single big project) into human understandable and manageable chunks of work, it gives you an overview and limits overwhelm.

The First Rule About Kanban …

The methodology has two cardinal rules

  • Visualise your work
  • Limit Your Work In Progress

Visualise your work – break your work down into visual representations, I use Trello with small cards to represent projects (see video below), other people use whiteboards on the wall or pages in a diary with post-it notes, what ever method you use, the work must be visualised

Limit your work in progress – focus on the work you are doing now, not what is coming up, only have a small number of the tasks to focus on.

Backlog Items

When you cannot work on a particular piece of work due to constraints from other team members or clients, move it into a backlog area so it is out of your work in progress.

We have a visualisation of what needs to be done, but is on hold.

Pull Don’t Push Into Work In Progress

Work is gently pulled into the work in progress using Kanban rather than trying to forcefully push work into an already busy schedule, this is a little bit of a weird concept to grasp but check out the video hopefully it will become clearer.

How Much Time Does This Take

My first task each morning is to get all new items into Trello, pull new projects into work in progress and have a stand up meeting with my team to assign jobs and allocate time.  That is less than an hour per day for me, something that used to have me pulling my hair our throughout the day.

Video: How I use Kanban With Trello

Enough of the the theory, here is a practical look at Kanban  (apologies about the black out at approx 4:25).

Further Reading

For more background into Kanban I recommend this book Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life

Wrap Up

Having visibility of all our work is an amazing break through to me, it has take a lot of the stress away from managing a large number of small projects.

As my team grows they will slot easily into this system for more scale, I love Kanban, when I first found it, it really felt like a veil being lifted from my eyes.

Photo Credit: bunnygoth via Compfight cc

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