Innovation

Kanban, an agile methodology for team management

Kanban

The day-to-day routine of any office involves the bustle of calls, emails, meetings and unforeseen urgent circumstances, in between which we have to do our work. To prevent this from descending into chaos there are methodologies that make it easier to manage both time and teams. At Valoriza Servicios Ambientales, we use Kanban and this is our experience.

By Mariola Terciado

There is a generalised feeling of not having enough time and it seems that things are not going to change. Therefore, work processes have to be improved to make them more efficient and effective by using innovative team management methods that make it possible to do a good job that is on schedule and deal with unforeseen circumstances.

This is what the Optimisation, Improvement and Innovation Department is working on at Valoriza Servicios Medioambientales, where they believe innovation can be everywhere, even in managing our daily working lives, a field with tremendous potential for improvement.

How Kanban works

Kanban is an agile work management methodology which emerged as part of Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing method to control and synchronise component manufacturing. However, it soon became independent of the factories and evolved into a generic task management tool based on four basic principles:

  1. Visualize the workflow.
  2. Limit work in progress.
  3. Manage workflow.
  4. Continuous improvement.

To illustrate these points, an explanation will be given of the internal work methodology followed at the Optimisation, Improvement and Innovation Department, where Kanban has been introduced with the goal of making our lives easier and allowing us to have greater control over all that we do.

To do so, weekly status meetings are held in which each participant gives an update on the situation of their tasks so that the whole team is aware of all the work; this also facilitates collaboration and balanced workloads based on the specific demands at each moment in time. This makes productivity increase significantly, because publicly committing to finishing something for the following week has an extremely powerful motivating effect.

But let’s go over each Kanban principle step by step.

Visualize the workflow

The epicentre of this methodology is the “Kanban Board”. This is a space into which the tasks are placed and distributed depending on execution level, and are divided into three simple status levels: To Do; Doing; and Done. From there, the complexity of how they are divided up can be increased based on the nature of each project.

VSM, for example, uses a physical board where each week each participant places their tasks using sticky notes in the colour assigned to each member, thereby making it possible to see at a glance which tasks are assigned to which people.

Kanban board

Limit work in progress

One of the immediate consequences of visualising the work is that the tasks take up space and when the board is full, nothing more can be added. This physical limitation makes it necessary to manage the work so that whatever is in progress has to be completed or postponed before anything new can be started on.

Manage workflow

Visualisation also greatly facilitates workflow management, as limiting work in progress is the first step in order to arrange the entry of new tasks. However, first it is necessary to prioritise the outstanding tasks to sustain those which are in progress; define what a “done” task is, to ensure completion; and manage unforeseen circumstances which make it possible to assign work depending on any urgent, last-minute tasks.

Continuous improvement

Once the basic procedure has been established, the continuous improvement stage begins. Kanban’s greatest virtue is its flexibility and ability to adapt to any team’s way of working, although to do this the team has to fine-tune it to its particular features.

This entire process has been followed at Valoriza Servicios Medioambientales for over six months and the benefits have been evident from the very first day. Now the work is visible and this facilitates coordination, communication and cross-departmental problem solving and dealing with the unexpected as a team, as well as understanding each participant’s workflows.

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