How to increase your productivity by 200%
Its 2012, we need agile tools and workflows to cover the needs of our lean operations. We need actionable metrics, track everything and manage top talents without getting in their ways… Projectmanagement is dead. Long live Projectmanagement…
When you grow your team, you will very soon reach the point where the “intuitive” methods of assigning tasks and planning projects will fail. At this point you want to consider replacing E-Mail, Skype and Direct Communication with proper tools & workflows to manage your teams tasks and workload. Today i am going to outline the path we took, and how we ended up with Trello saving everyones time and nerves. We kind of moved from zero to Kanban in regards to project management. Maybe you are in a different situation and need to reduce or improve the existing project management. Any way, i hope this article will help & inspire you to try something different than MS project 😉
What you need to get started
- A Whiteboard, Flipchart, area on the wall or the like
- Some Post-Its
- Pen and Paper
- A little bit of time and trust.
Capture the current reality
No matter what you think is the best method or tool, do not just jump in and implement it. First you want to capture the current reality. You want to know whats going on before you change it. It can be quite revealing if you just ask everyone to write down a list of things they are planning to do, or think they are supposed to do next. Revealing in a way that shows you how little you know about what actually is going on, no matter how much you think you are in control. Don’t use tools for that. I really recommend to stick with pen & paper in these kind of situations. It does not set limits. Talk to the people about their lists and try to understand how everyone manages their tasks prior to the next steps.
Visualize what you do
At this point you are equipped with a very complete overview of todo items for every person. You should have a feeling about how tasks get assigned to people. Maybe you already identified or understood some problems. To visualize, understand and later optimize the processes you can use a Kanban board. Kanban gives you the flexibility needed to represent existing workflows and adjust alongside with the optimization. Kanban btw. is a visual process management system (aka Kanban Board), and also a whole method for evolutionary optimization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development) ). For you, kanban can be as simple or complex as you need it to be. Although for the most people in your organization the introduction of Kanban will mean only minor changes, you need to understand and prepare a bit more. Kanban is an evolutionary system as opposed to revolutionary methods of changing an organizations processes. For you it means that you can start with Kanban, without changing anything in the first step. All you do is, you start to vizualize (parts of) what everyone is doing on a simple whiteboard, called the Kanban Board. In its simplest form it its made of 3 columns, each with a number of Stories / Tasks or whatever on Post-Its.
Sometimes this already is enough for you to get started, sometimes you need to put some more thoughts into designing your first board to reflect your processes. You can add as many columns as you need. Try to fill the board with the previously captured tasks. Find out whats currently beeing worked on, and move the tickets accordingly. If you feel comfortable with the result, start with the first minor “changes” and introduce Kanban to the rest of your team. I recommend to start with some very basic rules to get things started:
Push vs Pull
One characteristic that everyone liked immediately after they understood it, was “Push vs Pull”. Tasks are not pushed to someone, as in “Skype: Please add a newsletter Box to our Homepage!!”. Instead people “pull” their task from the Todo column to doing, whenever they are ready to work on something new. For us this simple shift alone had a big impact on productivity. It removes many of the common distractions and gives team members a lot more flexibility & autonomy. No one is allowed to directly assign tasks anymore.
Move Tickets instantly
Whenever something changes (like someone finishes a task), move the tickets on the board to represent the new situation. The physical representation of tasks on a whiteboard, really makes it easier to understand and internalize the whole method. Its strange but it feels quite good to physically move a Task from doing to done. Tickets only move from left to the right.
Meet with everyone on the team in front of the board regularly, and quickly let everyone explain what they are working on, what problems they are facing. Discuss questions about the Board and Kanban itself. Implement Rules as described in the next section.
Kaizen, Rules & Wip Limits
Kaizen is japanese for “improvement”. I dont want to get too much into the details of the Kanban method but thats basicly what it is about. You want to slowly start making incremental improvements to your processes. The newly installed kanban board gives you the tools you need to visualize and optimize in small and easy to follow steps. From week to week you can discuss, introduce or remove rules for the Board. WiP Limits for example are very useful. They limit the “Work in Progress” by defining a maximum number of tasks for certain columns. Lets say you also have a “testing” column for features that are ready but not yet tested. Lets also assume that people like developing new features more than testing them. As a result you fail to ship features although they are almost ready. Lets change that by introducing a WiP Limit of 5 to the Testing Column.
It means thatthere can not be more than 5 Tickets in the Testing column. So no one can pull any more Tickets into the Testing column. Its like a little traffic jam that will eventually also fill up the doing column with their own limit. Thats when people will start to realize that there is a Problem: Someone has to test the Features to allow everything else to flow again. Maybe some developers will help out with the testing instead of developing more and more features. Kanban is very good at identifying these kind of problems. If you dig further into Kanban you will find more of these usefull tools that help you optimize your processes.
Use Trello to replace your physical Boards
Real Kanban boards are great. Dont skip them. They force people to literally “get in touch” with their work and also each other. They are a place to gather and discuss. They are visible for everyone and remind you of sticking with the method. Going digital makes you loose many of these advantages. To get everyone on board and to refine everything i would always use a “real” board. I’d even consider switching back to one if we face major changes of the board. However at some point we wanted to try out a virtual Board. Theres already a lot of specialized Software available, most of it focussed on development teams. But nothing really made me want to make the switch, until i found Trello.comfrom the fine people over at Fogcreek Software. Let them describe what it is themselfes:
Some people saw Trello and said, “oh, it’s Kanban boards. For developing software the agile way.” Yeah, it’s that, but it’s also for planning a wedding, for making a list of potential vacation spots to share with your family, for keeping track of applicants to open job positions, and for a billion other things. In fact Trello is for anything where you want to maintain a list of lists with a group of people.
Joel Spolsky – http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/01/06.html
We have switched all our boards over to trello, and its just great. Now everyone can keep track of everything from anywhere. We can pass tickets around between the boards of different departments. Each Ticket can host its own discussion and keeps track of the whole history of changes. Its possible to attach images, make todo lists etc all on the back of a tickets. We use Trello now for all of our project management needs, and i dont want to look back…
What do you think about Trello and Kanban? Are we all Hipsters now and should reconsider MS Project instead? What problems are you facing with the introduction of Kanban in you organization? Let me know in the comments now!