Guide to building your workflow on a Kanban Board.

This article is a guide to designing your team’s workflow on a Kanban Board. We will go about explaining where the system is derived from and what purpose it serves, to giving you a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

Guide to building your workflow on a Kanban Board.

Work process on a Kanban Board isn’t far different from the process of manufacturing.

If you’re not familiar with it, a manufacturing process is often clear-cut and straightforward, mostly black and white rather than grey. Let’s assume you know what you want to produce; you take a raw material, put it into a mold, set the right conditions for it, package, and ship the final product.

This same process is repeated for the rest of thousands of products, sometimes simultaneously. A Kanban Board serves as a container that keeps those processes in place and gives your team a visual view of progress.

This article is a guide to designing your team’s workflow on a Kanban Board. We will go about explaining where the system is derived from and what purpose it serves, to giving you a step-by-step guide on how to get started.

The Origin.

The Kanban system was developed by an industrial engineer of Toyota, a Japanese automotive company, named Taiichi Ohno. The key idea behind it was to match up the productivity and efficiency of Toyota to its rivals, so a Kanban system was created as a simple planning system that could control, and manage work and inventory at every stage of production.

A Kanban Board follows a set of principles and practices that help you improve your workflow overtime. Those principles encourage teams to visualize their flow of work, finish the tasks at hand before moving onto other tasks, and reflect back to improve the process.

In manufacturing, every step is respected and can’t be missed. A missed step often puts the product to ‘incomplete’ or tossed away in a manufacturing garbage. This same principle goes for a work process; If one step is overlooked, you can imagine the kind of ripple effects it would create afterwards, and they are often hard to reverse (i.e. Missing a stakeholder when doing market research for a future-defining project).

This being said, a Kanban Board helps keep everything in perspective and avoid important processes from being drowned in the back of everyone’s temporary memory.

The Kanban Hierarchy.

If we start from the foundation of a Kanban Board, it consists of multiple levels of hierarchy. One could simply identify them as:

  1. List titles and flows
  2. To-dos inside each list
  3. Todo details
  4. Sub-tasks or Checklists
The Kanban Hierachy

Step 1: Define List Titles / Workflows

This is your work process. If your team already has an existing workflow, list titles are the titles of each stage of your work process. A popular template is “Todo, Doing, Done”, but this could be adaptive to the granularity of a project you’re working on.

Todo, Doing, Done Workflow

If your project requires approval before it gets marked as completed, then you shall add an “Under Review” stage in the existing process.

Todo, Doing, Under Review, Done Workflow

If you’re working towards a yearly list of milestones, you could add a “Yearly Goals” stage in the beginning of the flow so it can simply be dragged across as you begin working on them.

Goal Tracking

If you don’t already have a workflow, take some time to sit with your team and decide what steps/processes work best for the work you do.

Workflow Exercise

Depending on the team sizes and responsibilities, you might want to keep to one workflow or create multiple workflows. In most Kanban Board formats, one project is one workflow. If you need to create multiple workflows, then you need more projects.

One project for one workflow.
  1. Group up based on team or department.
  2. Based on responsibilities of the team, decide how many workflows they need to create. If this is a challenging task, start by listing down all responsibilities of the team and categorise them according to their relevance.
  3. Create a project for each workflow you need.
  4. Start to build a workflow within each of those projects.
  5. Write them in a Kanban style and test it out among your team.  

Mindset when adopting a new way of work.

  1. Be realistic about your flow. It’s easy to get lost in fantasies of what your workflow could be like vs. what actually works. For example, you may be creating a workflow to track sales leads, and it’s more realistic to add multiple stages for follow-up rather than a few, based on your experience doing sales.
  2. Embrace uncomfortability. If you haven’t used a Kanban Board before, it could be a little bit of a learning curve. But you will eventually figure it out. Embrace the unknown and keep on learning.
  3. Stick to it and adapt along the way. The best way to form a habit is to stick to it for at least 60 days. When it gets uncomfortable, reflect on it and adapt. Don’t quit!

Step 2: Write down the tasks of each stage.

Just like how you list down your to-do-list, you can start by writing all your todos in its designated list on the Kanban Board. If you’re collaborating with some people on the same project, invite them to add todos with you so you’ve got all details covered by different stakeholders.

Listing tasks down

Step 3: Fill in the details.

Once you’ve listed all your workflow and todos, you can go back into individual todos to adjust details.

Start & Due Date. One of the key steps to getting a task done is to set a deadline to it. It establishes a boundary  as to how long it should take to complete a task and encourages team members to push through. When setting a timeline to a task, keep in mind these questions:

  • When is the ideal timeline this task should be completed?
  • Are there overlapping tasks around those dates that may affect the overall timeline?
  • Can the person assigned to the task complete it on time?
  • What obstacles would be in the way to complete this task? (i.e. Holidays, Company events, Approvals, etc.)

Assignees. When you assign a task to a specific person(s), it gets done. There’s a true sense of ownership that comes with setting assignees. It brings less confusion as to who is responsible, because when someone is assigned to it, they are accountable for completing it. The worst thing anyone can do in a team is to have a task and expect ‘anyone’ to complete it.

But how many people should be assigned to the same task? We’ve written our detailed observation and insight in this article:

One vs Multiple Assignees to Todos?
One the things that I’ve been thinking deeply about lately is whether a particular todo, the building block of something greater, a project, should be assigned to just one individual or several individuals. In Bloo [/one-vs-multiple-assignees-to-todos/www.bloo.io], our software allows assigning a p…

Tags. Other than that, you can categorize different todos using tags. Tags are often used to categorize different roles/types of tasks, different product/services, or different priority levels of the task. Adding a tag makes it convenient for your team to filter for them later. (i.e. seeing only todos that are ‘urgent’).

Step 4: List down sub-todos or checklists.

You may have a task that comes with other sub-tasks to be completed, and this may require your undivided attention to plan and write them out. To keep details and steps in order, create a checklist for them and set a deadline if needed.

Checklist inside Todo.

Conclusion.

Now you’ve got a ready-to-act-on Kanban Board. The first few weeks are often the hardest if your team is not used to it. But whatever you do, remember the reason you started it in the first place.

A Kanban Board:

  • Keeps all processes in one place
  • Gives a visual view of progress
  • Establishes accountability through setting deadlines and assignees
  • Always moves work forward

Sometimes your work process also requires multiple iterations; A first try is never perfect. Remember to change and adapt as you see fit, as in fact a Kanban is not a Kanban without reflection and improvements.

If you're onboarding your team to get started on a Kanban Board or Project Management Software, here's our guide.

The Complete Guide: Onboarding Teams To Bloo
Introducing change to the way things are run in a company has never been easy, especially if you are managing large groups of people. We think you will get the most out of Bloo only when your team understands the value of project management and adopts it well.