Try Kanban for group project management

Group projects got you down? Can’t figure out who is doing what, what’s left to do, and how much has been accomplished?

Consider Kanban to get things done. Kanban is a structured, clean, simple task tracking method, and it’s a bit more than a To Do list. First you make three piles for your tasks:

  • To Do
  • Doing
  • Done

In To Do, you describe all the stuff you have to do (wake up, brush teeth, make breakfast, get to class).

As you get going on a task (wake up, brush teeth), you put those in Doing.

When you’re done, you slide those tasks into the Done pile. That’s it. It’s a way to quantify, visualize, and manage your workflow, to limit your To Do list, and to generate a sense of satisfaction with task completion.

This year at the Libraries, we used a free, web-based tool called KanbanFlow:

kanbanflow

We tried it out when we refreshed our iTunesU and YouTube accounts. We had to review content, decide what to keep, add, remove and so forth. Because we had a backlog of tasks to handle, Kanban seemed like a good option to clear that list. After we and several other groups around the Libraries gave it a go, here’s what we found:

The Good.

  • Free
  • Simple to set up and get going
  • Easy to invite other users
  • Ability to copy cards for similar tasks
  • Color coding for cards (I gave a color to each community of interest, so the WIC folks knew to always look for red tasks, Biomed for blue, Rare Books for yellow)
  • Annotations describing the task if necessary
  • Subtasks as checklists
  • Moving tasks across the board creates a sense of flow, of forward progress

The Bad.

  • Cannot customize fields when creating a new card
  • Task assignment and notification

taskThe thing that should make a tool like this more compelling than simply making a shared Google spreadsheet with tasks listed is task assignment and notification functionality, with due dates baked in to boot. BUT, each square can only be assigned to a single person. This doesn’t make sense. I made each square correspond to a clip, and three or four people needed to work on each clip (creating branding images, adding bumper clips, editing text, uploading files, making playlists).

So was it the tool or was it the way I defined the tasks? If I had defined each little tiny task, the To Do pile would have been too big. If I had made a single square for each person with all their tasks, each person’s Doing pile would be too big for the tool to be helpful.

What this meant is that I had to remind everyone to stay on task, and everyone had to remember to go check the board. For a while, this worked, but eventually use of the tool dropped off, and we aren’t using it much anymore.

It helped me think a little harder about what the tasks were, how to break them down, and how assignments should work, but it didn’t do me any actual productivity favors.

I liked the Kanban method very much, but the tool we chose seems only good for sprints, not for long-term projects. I’ve been fishing for other options and I’ve found a few that look pretty cool, but I haven’t had a chance to try them out: TrelloDroptask and Kanban2Go.

At first glance, Droptask looks like the Prezi of Kanban, while Trello seems pretty feature-rich and less gimmicky. As the semester rolls to a close, I’m curious if any of you folks out there are using this method, or any of these tools. Give us a shout in the comments if you are!

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Comments

  1. I think Kanban is really good method for group project management. I started with traditional whiteboard. Now I use an web version – tool called KanbanTool (http://kanbantool.com/ ). I’m really fascinated with the possibilities of this solution.

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