A few days ago, I realized I had a few too many tasks on my plate, and decided to finally try out a personal Kanban tool. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s a Japanese word that refers to those boards in common work spaces that allow a team to manage tasks in real-time. Most have three columns: “To Do,” “Doing,” and “Done,” or words to that effect. The object is to create a pool of tasks “to do” by the team, recorded on index cards or sticky notes. A worker moves a card to the “doing” column, and gets to work. Most organizations have a limit to the number of items a team member can have in progress; typically one or two. Some “doing” columns have a section for “blocked” tasks that require some decision or resource not immediately available. When the task is completed, the worker moves the card to the “done” column, and then moves another card from the “to do” to the “doing” column.
The Kanban is central to the Toyota approach to Lean, and a lot of organizations, including software development teams seeking a more Agile approach, are adopting them to manage work flow. The advantage, obviously, is visibility. At a glance, you can see how much progress the team is making. Managers can also monitor the “blocked” tasks, to take action as needed. Of course, what works for the team might also work for the individual worker, so a lot of folks have started using “personal” kanbans to keep track of their tasks, chores, and reminders. I decided to join the movement. And of course, since Kanban is such a visual and tactile metaphor, I had to have it on my iPad.
So after a quick review of the products available for the iPad in the App Store, I thought I’d try All Stuck Up. It uses a cork board background, and little colored stickies just wide enough for notes like, “Set up meetings to discuss questionnaires” or “Draft workshop participation sched.” You have a choice of pastel colors – yellow, green, red, light blue, and violet – and three fonts, including Helvetica, Marker Felt, and Typewriter. You can set up as many cork boards as you need; I set up one for each of my projects, one for administrivia, and one for travel. The cork board doesn’t have any lines for columns or swim lanes, but the developer’s web site says that’s planned for a future release. Side note: I love iPad apps, because all I have to do to apply an update is to tap the App Store icon, and then tap updates. If I see an update for one for my installed apps, I just tap it and wait a minute or two for it to load. Did I mention All Stuck Up is currently just 99 cents?
After creating the first project cork board, I created a bunch of tasks and placed them in an imaginary “to do” column, on the left. I made all of them green, and sorted them in the order I wanted to tackle them. Then I moved the first one to the middle, “doing” column and got to work. When I finished it, I went back in, changed the color to blue, dragged it to the right side “done” section, and pushed the next task to the middle. I had one task blocked, “contract signed?” So I moved it to the middle column and changed the color to yellow. I’ll go nag the account executive on Tuesday if I don’t hear anything. Simple, elegant, and I can adapt it to pretty much any project or area of responsibility.
In the few days I’ve been using it, I’ve already developed the habit of adding tasks to my Kanban and maintaining them throughout the day. Since my personal work space includes a stand for my iPad, it’s even more convenient than a real cork board. And of course, it gives my wife one more reason to roll her eyes. Priceless.