If you have ever used Trello you have used a Kanban board. Kanban boards originated at Toyota in the 1940s and spread to all kinds of manufacturing, then software development and now project management in various industries.

The most simple Kanban board has three columns, To Do | Doing | Done. You load up To Do with tasks, prioritize those To Dos so the item that needs to be done next is at the top, then pull the top item into the Doing column. When complete it goes to Done.

I use this basic version of a Kanban board in my personal life to manage my home improvement tasks. I recently moved into a new home and keep discovering things that need fixing or renovating. This board is inside a cabinet door and is is oriented vertically instead of horizontally to accommodate the space.  To Do is at the top, In Progress is in the middle with “(2)” indicating my limit on the number of items that can actively be In Progress. There is also a section on the left side of the In Progress row called “Ongoing” for things I need to keep chipping away at. The bottom row is DONE! which I look forward to filling up.

My home improvement board

The first time I did this exercise in an organization my team stood in front of a blank wall and then made one sticky note for each project that was currently being worked on. Once we had everything up on the wall we were completely shocked, we had 30 open projects!

Too much work in progress!

We’d never had such a clear picture of the huge amount of work we were trying to get done all at once. It gave us an obvious illustration of why we were progressing so slowly on each of the projects, we were trying to cram a firehose amount of work through a straw. Putting everything up on the wall made it visible to everyone and we took a step back to discuss how to work more efficiently. We got some of the key decision makers in the room to review the list of projects and help us make some tough prioritization choices. Then we decided to only work on the top five projects at a time. 

From then on I managed my roadmap with the kanban board, and once a month I got the key decision makers together to review our progress and make any new prioritization adjustments.

Most software development teams I’ve worked with use Kanban board software to manage their tasks. A single project might have thousands of tasks and the board lets us map progress of a task through the workflow. The team would meet for 5 minutes every morning to review the board and update progress. The project manager would groom the priorities every night.

Here’s a great starter article https://leankit.com/learn/kanban/kanban-board//