Are you having trouble keeping track of what tasks you or your team are currently working on?
Not sure if you’re on schedule?
Then this is for you!

Believe it or not it comes from the automobile industry!
What’s the automobile industry got to do with digital marketing? I hear you asking!

Well we have a lot in common; They need to control the flow of production and react quickly to market forces; get the product that’s in demand to the market place in time to satisfy the customers.
We need to do the same; react and move the essential tasks forward quickly so that we get the product to the launch or just the marketplace before the demand is met by our competitors!

Keeping control and being able to monitor progress of priorities can be a major factor contributing to a competitive edge.

Traditional automobile manufacturers used to control their production using a “Push” system, where a forward forecast for demand dictated the rate and scale of production.
The problem with this is that “forecasts” are good only on the day they are made and demand has a habit of fluctuating rapidly.
As a result companies were finding that they were wasting time and resources on product that was not as popular as predicted.
They were also losing valuable sales for products that they were not producing fast enough.

Taiichi Ohno, an industrial engineer and business executive developed a new production control system while working for Toyota in the early 50’s.

He called it KANBAN

Toyota quickly adopted it along with his “Seven Wastes” model which is the subject of a seperate post.
The revised model worked to “Pull” demand through the supply chain.
This resulted in them being able to react rapidly to changes in demand and manage stock much more efficiently and other manufacturers quickly adopted it.

The name Kanban is Japanese and roughly translated means “card you can see.”

So how is a large scale production management system relevant to what we do?

The Kanban system is a simple in concept, visual method for scheduling and keeping track of your tasks and you can set one up in about twenty minutes.
It works like this;

  • Grab a space on your whiteboard – or even an empty space on your wall – and mark out three columns.
    Label them “To Do”, “In Progress” and “Completed”.
  • Next grab a bunch of sticky notes and write an individual task on each
    – you can colour code them according to the type or priority if you wish –
    keep going until you’ve listed all your outstanding tasks and stick them all up in the To Do column.

It is important to remember while you’re doing this that projects are not tasks.

Projects need to be broken down into their most manageable task components.
If you have several projects in play then you can separate them into blocks on the board.
Use horizontal lines through the columns so you can track the individual tasks for each project more clearly.

  • Now choose the tasks that are the highest priority (for each project if you have several) and move them into the In Progress column.
    These are the tasks – and only these – that you should be working on right now.
  • DO NOT load the In Progress column up with more tasks than you can comfortably handle at any one time.
  • Once each of those tasks is completed move it into the Completed column and move the next priority task from To Do into In Progress.

Keep Loading  the To Do column with more tasks as they come up.

You may, after you have been using the system for a while, need to add additional columns.
“On Hold” or “Waiting On” columns could be useful for items that you need to move out of the In Progress column if there is a delay that is out of your control.
That way you can keep the active tasks moving but separate out and easily monitor the hold ups.

That’s it – simple!
Use it and you will be amazed by the significant increase your workflow!

Why does it work?

Kanban turns your task to-do into a visual map – a picture of your progress!
Research shows that our brains absorb information much faster when looking at pictures than when we’re reading text.
So you are able to spend less time studying work schedules and trying to keep a track of what you are doing as it’s right there in front of you in graphic format.

Kanban gives us a method of controlling task overload by keeping the current priorities in view and allowing us to assess progress.

We get a lot of satisfaction out of watching that Completed column fill with tasks we’ve dealt with. It’s a fantastic boost to motivation.

You can develop and modify the basic system to suit your own work patterns; adding colour coding to a task or project as you need, adding “time for completion hours” to each task and using those to restrict the number of task hours that you add to the In Progress column. This will keep your current task list from reaching overload.

Starting by adding a number of estimated hours to complete a task and comparing them to actual will also build a better basis for future estimates and planning.

How this works for teams

Kanban works best for teams if each team member has ownership of prioritising and progressing their own tasks.
Having a Kanban board up and visible allows the entire team to be across how well they are progressing.
The team leader can easily see how each individual is managing their own workload.

The physical board in the office is great if the team is all working from the one location but what happens if they are all remote?

Online Kanban boards are becoming more and more common and easy to set up and use.

The one that I use for free is Trello (
It’s simple to set up, you can have multiple boards, can give team members access and full visibility to the boards that they need to see and work on.
It easily plugs into and interacts with services like mailchimp and surveymonkey so you can feed data and results straight from them into your task cards.
I particularly like which allows me to map flow diagrams (sales funnels) into the task cards as I need.

Here’s a simple one that I’ve set up to keep a track of my progress through the Partnership to Success program

I don’t have a team to manage but keeping these Kanbans online allows me to access them from anywhere.
This frees me from having to be in the “office” to see how I’m progressing and make judgments about taking on a new project or add new tasks as they come up.

Final Thoughts

Using a Kanban Board allows you and your team to achieve a much higher level of productivity without the usual stress.
Used effectively it limits the number of tasks that each team member is dealing with at any one time.
It reduces task overload and multi-tasking and limits any consequent slowdowns and time wasting.
It also gives you a visual picture of your performance and allows you to identify quickly the areas that need improvement.

Kanban is a “Pull” system. Each member of the team “pulls” tasks towards them as they have the capacity to action them.
This promotes a better feeling of ownership of the process than if they are having tasks “pushed” at them.
If each day you gather round the board (teleconference for remote teams) and discuss the tasks on hand, their progress and any new ideas, it builds an increased feeling of team collaboration and cooperation.

All of these improvements are a benefit to any project or team environment and result in an increase in completion rates of the tasks and projects in hand.
Even for individual this system produces fantastic productivity results as it declutters and controls the essential workflow.

A real bonus is the ability to keep a track of the underlying statistics for any project.
You can identify problems or roadblocks as they are experienced.
This, of course will give you a heads up to spotting problems coming in any future project and give you a better chance of dealing with them early.