Improving how we work through physical kanban boards

Kanban is a process that helps product designers like us manage building products.

It was originally developed by Toyota engineer Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer at Toyota to improve manufacturing efficiency.

VersionOne easily explains what Kanban is based on through three principles:

  • Visualize what you do today — seeing all the items in context of each other can be very informative.
  • Limit the amount of work in progress— this helps balance the flow-based approach so teams don’t start and commit to too much work at once.
  • Enhance flow — when something is finished, the next highest thing from the backlog is pulled into play.

kanban board allows you to visualize this process and implement these principles.

Kalibrr Design’s Kanban Board

At the present, a Kanban board can be implemented digitally through modern project management or workflow productivity tools.

Trello is usually the favorite tool to use. And there are tons of alternatives out there you can try. Just google “kanban board” and you’ll get a lot of results.

A kanban board on Trello

To be honest, Trello can get the job done. It has great UX and an intuitive interface. Most world-class teams use it to track how their products are built, too.

So why would our design team create a physical Kanban board instead?

Initially, I found out about the idea during my UX design internship at agoda. I drew inspiration from one of the design leads who made a big ass physical board for her team (thanks Sarah!).

The board listed names and corresponding tasks. Everyone passing by could see what any one person was working on. Occasionally, I would see their team having a huddle or daily stand-ups in front of it, discussing roadblocks to their work.

To me, they looked like a really legit design team. Sarah’s team was agile, collaborative, efficient, and effective. You could feel how everyone was so integrated.

I pitched the idea to Mark, and we did it, albeit with a smaller team.

When we implemented our kanban board, amazing things started to happen.

First, I was more conscious about the work I was putting in.

The board can be seen by anyone at the office. It forces the team to be transparent about the work. As a result, I felt more accountable about my every day design work.

We set a limit to only work on one thing at a time to avoid “overcapacity.”

What this allowed me to do was finish quality design work in time for design reviews (which we can talk about in another article).

e single-mindedness in finishing one task allowed me to pump out quality work. That allows a designer like me to come to design and stakeholder reviews very prepared.

I noticed how my attitude changed after the board was implemented.

Instead of being a rockstar designer working in a silo, I was becoming more empathetic to my team members. When I saw a task Mark was working with on our kanban board, I asked him if he needed any help.

He said yes, then Ferdee and I swarmed over to do a quick ideation session. I bet that wouldn’t have happened if I was just looking at a normal digital kanban.

A matrix we worked on for a new feature.

It was a great experience because the kanban board served as a trigger for us to come up to one another and offer help at any time.

We become more collaborative by partnering up. We work together in quick bursts to remove roadblocks. We became more effective.

The physical part of the board makes the experience more worthwhile. Personally, I enjoy writing out tasks on post its more than putting it on digital cards. It just feels more human.

There’s also a great amount of satisfaction to be gained from physically moving a task from “Doing” to “Done.”

Standing up from my chair, using my hand to move a post it to another area, and seeing all the work I’ve done for the week through a pile of post its in our “Archived” section gives a lot of contentment.

Post its, of course, are essential to making our physical kanban board. Here’s one of our product designers, Ferdenee.

Our physical kanban board is usually copied to our digital one, just in case anyone decides to work remotely. Mark and Casper (our Head of Product) were adamant we keep a “work anywhere Friday.” Though it’s additional work maintaining two boards, it’s still not too hard.

Mark usually sets a card assigned to himself to digitize the left over cards on Thursday afternoons before we leave the office so we can refer to the online kanban board on Fridays.

Mark writing out some more tasks for the week.

We usually flush out the archive every week or every two weeks, and keep the archived cards in an envelope. This helps us return to them later on and see what we’ve done if we’re asked what we did the previous weeks.

TLDR — what’s the value of a physical kanban board for Kalibrr Design?

  • We become more transparent, efficient, and accountable.
  • We become more focused in delivering quality design work.
  • We become more collaborative.
  • We become more empathetic and caring towards each other.
  • We derive more happiness and meaning out of our work.

I can finally move this blog post task from “Doing” to “Done.” 🙌🏻 🎉

Originally for Kalibrr Design

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