How To Finish Projects Faster with Kanban

Have you found the perfect productivity tool for finishing more projects – and more quickly?

I’ve recently become reacquainted with one that is proving to not only improve productivity, but confidence too. Isn’t that what every process should do?

If you are visually oriented like me, Kanban will help you to see your workflow progress, thereby allowing you to stay focused on what matters now for completing your projects with greater efficiency and speed.

Kanban is a Workflow Improvement Tool

Kanban is a tool that was developed within Toyota to accomplish what is often known as lean manufacturing. In other words, Kanban is fundamental to the concept of Kaizen or continuous improvement.

In the last decade the tool became popular with software development teams. To learn more, check out the book Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business, by David J Anderson. I found a copy at the local library.

As the title suggests, Kanban is intended to help your business evolve its processes to make them increasingly more efficient over time. In my work, it helps me better grasp interdependencies with other team members, and that helps me stay focused on what’s important.

This Old New Business with Jeff Korhan As one example, in the process of launching my new podcast, I realized having everyone and everything come together just right is like having a house full of kids playing well together! My guests and I have to coordinate before, during, and after interviews, iTunes has to integrate perfectly with my audio media host, and both have to correctly sync with my website.

Here’s a snapshot of the Kanban flow of that project just prior to launching.

How To Finish Projects Faster Using Kanban

This was when we had achieved the minimum necessary requirement for the launch and were only waiting for a green light from iTunes. So, I was able to confidently set that project aside and know that when I returned there was visual plan in place that leaves no doubt as to the next steps.

Project vs Task Orientation

The most basic productivity tool, and an invaluable one at that, is the checklist. The problem with checklists is they tend to be task oriented.

The greatest value of Kanban is the focus on flow, with the most basic Kanban workflow being what needs to be done, is coming next, in progress, and has been completed. That’s the system I’ve been using and it’s working for me quite nicely.

In fact, it occurred to me that when I was operating my landscape business in the days before computers, we used a kanban-like system of index cards on a large bulletin board to organize projects sold, coming up next, in production, and completed and ready for invoicing.

How are you currently organizing your project completion activities?

I’m discovering Kanban is helping me see everything in my business as a project, and that has me thinking bigger. So, instead of working on one sales opportunity, I find myself organizing all of my deals to complete similar tasks together.

This new perspective is streamlining all of my processes for better execution. Being a visual tool, Kanban really does help you see bottlenecks and how activities can be combined. If you put in a little extra effort after completing projects, you will find creating templates or flow diagrams will help to incrementally speed up future projects.

Recommended Kanban Tools

There are plenty of Kanban tools available, with most of them free or nearly so. The one I’m using is Kanbanflow. It’s simple to learn and use. My plan is to upgrade to the premium version for a modest $5/month to have access to more capabilities, such as creating project templates and uploading attachments.

LeanKit is another that was recommended to me. I gave it a try, but it seems to be better suited for larger teams and those that need the more advanced tracking capabilities.

Finally, you may wish to consider Trello. It’s an application that does not strictly adhere to Kanban methods, and that may account for its popularity.

I would love to hear how Kanban is working for you. 

About the Author:  Jeff Korhan, MBA, is the author of Built-In Social: Essential Social Marketing Practices for Every Small Business and host of This Old New Business podcast.

He helps mainstream businesses adapt their traditional growth practices to a digital world. Connect with Jeff on LinkedInTwitterFacebook, and Google+

Finish Any Project by Designing it into Three Stages

Any project you can think of can be designed and more readily finished by recognizing that it has three essential stages – a beginning, middle, and an ending.

Whether you are writing an article, cleaning out the garage, or starting a new business, you intuitively know this to be true.

Logically, most folks start at the beginning.  They are anxious to get started and just decide to figure things out as they go.

While this may be an effective strategy for taking a leisurely walk or bike ride, it’s not the best approach when the quality of the finished result needs to work well – to fulfill a definite purpose.

I’d like to suggest a different approach that will speed up the design process – and make your execution much easier and faster.

Design the Ending First and It Will Work Out Better

I’m in the process of writing a book that I have started more than once.  In fact, I wrote 50% of the book before I realized I didn’t know with absolute clarity where I was going.

More importantly, I had not fully explored all of the possible outcomes. When you start with the ending you get a very clear picture from which you can then work into making a reality.

Using my book publishing project as an example, I began to explore its contents in a creative way – and decided that I did not have to follow the traditional rules.  This helped me to think more deeply about how I could enhance its value for my readers.

This helped me to get more clear about the needs of my readers.  I began to think a lot less about the book and more about folks like you – small businesses that want to keep your online marketing simple, while still getting practical results that move your business forward.

When you design the ending first you can get intensely focused on what matters most – the user experience and the value that is derived from your successful project.

Design the Middle to Be Clear About the Necessary Steps and Ingredients

Once you are clear about the finished product, you can really get creative about how to get there.  This means you don’t have to do all of the work yourself.

You’ll likely discover that involving others will make your project better.  How will you involve them?  What’s in it for them?  These are the kinds of things that will easily come to mind.

When you are writing a book you are challenged with what to include – and what to leave out. One of my aha moments was to keep a running list of ideas that come to me every day.

Those ideas will be a valuable resource that will accelerate my progress. If I happen to get stuck, I’ll sift through my inventory of ideas.  They are there if I need them.  If not, I’ll use them on the next project.

But why wait for that? How about using your intermediary ideas in a new project that brings more energy and focus to your major project?

This way you can have that feeling of accomplishment that keeps you energized.  You know this feeling.

Long-term projects are often abandoned because you cannot see the finish line – or because you run out of energy. Starting with the ending helps you see that finish line, no matter how far off it is.

Completing an intermediary project empowers you with a sense of accomplishment that inspires you to keep going.

Design the Beginning to Hold Yourself Accountable

Here’s what I wrote for the beginning of my project:

Be fearless – and have fun.

Be relentless – don’t stop.

Get emotional – go deep.

Laugh off the naysayers.

Make everything easy – but do the work.

“Write” when you are running, or biking, or taking the dog for a walk.

Find the right habits.

The beginning of every projects feels like work. The more you can make it an enjoyable, personal challenge, the easier your work will be.

The inspiration for this article came from a formula a screenwriter shared with me about how every successful film is created.  Here’s the formula:  Somebody does something and it works out.

Somebody is the main character of the film.  You are the main character of your project.

Doing something well requires a cast. Get the help you need to make your project easier.

Most films have a happy ending.  Start with that and you will more effectively build the process for effectively achieving it.

What is the one project you have been putting off that you would really like to finish?

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Until tomorrow,  Jeff

Photo Credit: maxintosh