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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Visualization: Don’t Get Attached to a Specific Tool

Kanban board

If we are in Kanban world when we think visualization we see a Kanban board. We see a process mapped into columns with limits attached to them. We see sticky notes, which represent minimal marketable features. We see additional visuals which help to show priorities, blockers, people who are responsible for a task etc.

We mentally substitute visualization with the Kanban board.

To some point it works great. Well, after all it’s not without the reason that a Kanban board, or more generally a task board, became a tool of choice of so many teams.

However, it was never written that one of few Kanban rules is using Kanban board. Please point me to such advice if I’m wrong. Anyway, the rule is about visualization and Kanban board is only one of possible means to this end.

One of great lessons from Kanban Leadership Retreat was how many different approaches are possible in terms of visualizing work. Actually typical Kanban board looked kind of boring among that bunch of great folks as basically everyone had at least a couple of ideas how it can be done differently, depending on a specific situation of course.

The message is: it doesn’t really matter how you visualize your work as long as you are successful at that. Task board or Kanban board is fine, and it usually is very intuitive to use by a team, but quite often there are better ways to do it.

Consider a situation where you deal with a lot of small tasks. Do you really need to put each and every 5-minute-long tasks onto a post-it? Maybe there are more efficient ways to deal with them?

On the other hand, what about tasks which last long months? As I’m playing with project portfolio level Kanban it is a very timely question for me.

A classic form of the board, which I currently use, isn’t likely the best possible approach. I have at least a couple of ideas how to change it. And yes, now that you asked, I was totally inspired on Iceland event to improve my project portfolio Kanban board.

Probably it won’t be a Kanban board as we know it any more. I will still use stickies and whiteboard but it’s not going to look like any other board I’ve had so far. And that’s the real lesson I got on Kanban Leadership Retreat.

Don’t get attached to a specific tool. Kanban board is just a tool. Visualization is way, way more than that.

It’s kind of funny to realize how we learn to treat some things as obvious, like having Kanban board as a part of introducing Kanban. Fortunately, at some point of time we just realize it’s only a tool and we should use it as long as it is useful. If it’s not it’s better to use another one.

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in: communication, kanban

1 comment… add one

  • leszcz July 15, 2011, 1:06 am

    I like your “challenge everything” attitude. Thank you for sharing this oppinion with us. I’m also very thankful that you provided the link to Joakim’s blog post. I found it very interesting and useful in the case of working in maintenance team.

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