Inspire Your Team with A Physical Kanban Board They Will be Excited to Use
I’m a huge fan of physical Kanban boards; for professional and personal organization. Whether I’m working with a team, or tackling a home project, I find that a simple Kanban board is a great way to organize the things I need to accomplish. Besides, anyone who’s used a physical board can attest to that gratifying sense of accomplishment felt when moving cards across the board from “To Do” to “Doing” and ultimately to the pièce de résistance … “Done.”
When engaging teams, I find it especially helpful to create a board that your team relates to and wants to use. I encourage people to have fun with it and add their own personal flare to the board. Afterall, no two boards are alike.
Kanban Board Basics
Kanban (pronounced Kahn-bahn) is a technique used to move work through a system.
Whether you’re cleaning your house on a Saturday afternoon, or developing software in a start-up company, you can quickly implement Kanban to organize the work to be completed.
Kanban boards evolve from the simplest flow of work; “To Do,” “Doing” & “Done.”
Your Kanban board is where work is visualized so that individuals can see where each task is in the process. This overly simple tool provides invaluable results as individuals on the team begin thriving and collaborating in the interest of working to gether to accomplish their goals. The visualization of their work is a key facet of Kanban and Scrum; and a fundamentally this visualization helps align the team and stakeholders on expectations, delivery and the process. Additionally, Kanban is a great way to identify areas where work becomes stalled; commonly referred to as bottlenecks.
The simplest Kanban board includes three columns; To Do, Doing and Done. All work is posted to the board using stickies or index cards. As work is identified, a card is added to the “To Do” column. When the task is started, the individual working on the task moves the card into the “Doing” column. When the task is completed, it can be moved to “Done.” See? Simple.
One of the primary benefits of a physical board is the immediate sense of transparency it delivers. The board creates visibility for other team members and stakeholders to see progress and where a team is focusing their efforts. This transparency can help reduce anxiety about the status of a project, and reduces the number of times a stakeholder feels the need to check in with the team on where things stand in any given project.
As the physical Kanban board is used, teams can adjust the columns to better suit their needs. For example, if a team is working on tasks that require approval before they can be moved into the completion column, they may choose to add a column for “Awaiting Approval.”
Featuring a board in a common area is quite helpful in organizing tasks in one’s professional or personal life. Teams who are not in the same location can use electronic boards to visualize their work. That said, I strongly suggest using a physical board whenever possible.
Why Use a Physical Kanban Board?
One of the primary principles in the Agile Manifesto states, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.” If you remove the word, “development,” this principle be applied to any “team” of people; coworkers, friends, or family, who work, play or interact together.
Physical boards are a great way to bring teams together. As they meet around the board, they are able to have face-to-face conversations about the work at hand, collaborating and working together. This is a natural way that individuals can begin establishing a healthy team dynamic.
Today’s technology has propelled us to greater efficiency. However, this has come with a cost of frequently diminishing context, emotion and connection through digital communication. When you consider that 93% of all communication is non-verbal, it becomes obvious that we are more effective when we have physical contact with each other. This is why you commonly see Agilists recommending teams implement a physical board where their work is represented and transparent to the team and stakeholders.
When to Use a Physical Kanban Board
The board should be updated anytime progress is made. The more frequently the board is updated, the better. Newly forming agile teams tend to update the board at the end of the day. Higher performing teams update the board the moment progress is made. This provides real-time progress to anyone interested in where things stand in a project.
Agile teams often meet around the board daily to review where progress is being made and where things may be held up. When a board is used at home, kids can update their chore work on the board, letting parents prioritize chores and also lets them know when Billy’s room has been cleaned … or when the homework has not been done.
Sometimes it can be a challenge to get teams to post a physical board. Teams that are not in the same location have obvious challenges, and there are several online tools that can be used. But whenever possible, I recommend using a physical board because of the benefits it brings to the team dynamic.
Recognize when teams are hesitant to post their work on a physical board where everyone can see. Transparency can be vulnerable; as teams openly share their successes – and failures when they post their progress for other teams and managers to see.
A physical Kanban board:
1. Encourages face-to-face communication
2. Empowers teammates to make progress, physically moving cards across the board.
3. Creates a sense of connection as the team gathers around to discuss their progress and strategize on ways to successfully complete all of their work.
Top 5 things to consider when making a physical Kanban board
1. Make it Simple – Kanban boards evolve from the simplest flow of work; To Do, Doing & Done. It doesn’t need to be more complicated than that.
2. Make it Flexible – Your simple board should also be created in a way that it can be changed to better suit the needs of the project or team. I suggest using materials that you can move. You can create a board on foam core or a bulletin board or whiteboard… depending on what you prefer. If the team wants to add columns, allow the board to be adjusted as needed.
3. Make it relevant to your work – Every team’s board will be different. Some teams may add a column to indicate that a task is being tested, or needs approval. It’s all relative to your work and team needs.
4. Make it together – The entire experience of creating your board can be a team-building experience. Every activity from deciding what materials to use, shopping for the items and assembling the board should be fun and allow for creativity. Besides, if everyone is involved in creating it, you get automatic buy-in to use it.
5. Make it interesting – Your board should be an expression of you or your team and should be unique.
Step-by-Step: Creating a Badass Kanban Board
- Engage the team in conversation about their board. This will give them a sense of ownership. Excitement can be built in the anticipation of what they can create.
- Find a common theme. Observe your team and identify a common theme that gets them excited. People love games; especially software developers. Find something they can all relate to. Creating a themed Kanban board will encourage them to bring their enthusiasm to their work.
- Share ideas. Allow the team to brainstorm different ways to build up your board. Let them share ideas and get excited about it.
- Shop together. Lunch and an afternoon outing to Michaels and Office Max can be a wonderful team-building experience. Besides, the more involved they are in the creation of the board, the more engaged they will be in using it.
- Assemble it together. Once you’re back at the office, continue the team-building activity by having them build the board together. This will bring about creative conversations, laughs and collaboration.
- Watch the magic happen. The more creative and bold your board is, the more attention it will gain from other teams or individuals. It can be a great conversation piece and catalyst for change in a company. When the work begins, you’re likely to see that something magical happens when people hang out around the board and collaborate on how to get things done.
Team Football Field Kanban Board
I recently worked with a team of football fans. Realizing how excited they became when discussing Monday night’s game, I suggested they bring that energy into their work and turn their physical Kanban board into a football field.
With the mere suggestion of it, the team began brainstorming ways to correlate the game of football with their agile process, the product and support work. We decided to make the columns into yardlines on their Kanban board. And the User Stories and Tasks would be moved from left to right, down the field toward the EndZone.
Each team member chose their favorite football team, and we created helmet push-pins out of pencil eraser decorations and thumb tacks. By simply pushing these helmets into the appropriate user stories on the Kanban board, team memebers can clearly see who is working on the various tasks on the board.
Since the Product Owner will need to approve all of the team’s work, the team used the RedZone to indicate “Ready for Approval.” Once the Product Owner Approves the work, the User Story can be moved into the EndZone for the touchdown!
The team decided to use Field Goal to represent any additional work they take into the iteration since it provides “extra points.”
We purchased the supplies from Amazon and local stores and assembled it one afternoon. Certain team members’ enthusiasm became contagious, and the large Kanban board drew attention from nearby teams and onlookers.
Over the next few days, the board attracted people with varying levels and opinions about the Agile transformation, proving that the physical Kanban board had become a catalyst for conversation across the organization. It will be interesting to see how this evolves and whether or not other teams begin incorporating physical boards in their workspaces.
Just as each individual in unique, so are the teams they are made up of. Equally so, an effective Kanban board can be the foundation for your team and can create a unique identity that will not only set them apart from other teams, but will ultimately inspire them to show up and be amazing. The key is finding whatever works for your team of coworkers or family members.
Afterall, Agile isn’t just for business anymore.