complex project management

2D Kanban. Complex made visual.

If You have used Kanban to manage Your work, that is not a continuous production at a factory, You probably have come to a complexity challenge. Too many cards in a column? Several parallel processes on the same board? Managing subtasks while parent task is in progress? All of these issues sound too familiar and to tackle them we came up with a concept of 2D Kanban. An approach that helps many service and project based companies easily manage their work.  

Quest for visualization. 

Historically Kanban methodology has been developed as a system to control the manufacturing logistics chain. Taiichi Ohno at Toyota found a solution to implement pull instead of push approach in their Just-in-Time production lines. You can read more on history and development of Kanban methodology in our article about transition from physical to digital Kanban board.  

Principles developed by Toyota have become a success story and started to be applied in many other management areas to improve operational efficiency. Software development teams were first to adopt it as one of the agile techniques. And today most businesses use Kanban to manage projects,  development or operations. Industries using Kanban vary from engineering and construction to financial services and marketing. Managers have been creative to adopt Kanban principles in their organizations and find spaces for Kanban boards in their offices. Digitalization has even brought new possibilities to visualize processes. 

Basic Kanban. 

In basic and commonly used Kanban board columns represent work statuses. Cards then represent work units. They can contain assignments, estimations, deadlines, tags, descriptions, to-do lists and more information items. First we create new cards in the Backlog column. Then we move them through the process steps until completion and cards reach the Done column. When we move a card from In Progress to Done, we need to drag a new card from the Backlog into the empty space to make sure the production is utilized. 

Basic kanban board example

Basic Kanban works well in managing end-to-end manufacturing process from customer order to inventory of finished products. It also works for most isolated processes in services or sales. What if we work in a project that takes 3 months, involves more than 10 people and contains more than 100 items on a board? Projects also usually involve parallel processes and diverse functional responsibilities. One solution might be to use multiple boards. However, this will complicate collaboration and general management of a project. Imagine a meeting where a team has to review 5 or 10 different boards. And how to summarize priorities – the most important things to be done now? The traditional straight-forward Kanban board often lacks all those multiple perspectives that we need to monitor processes and to visualize them.  

Swimlanes. Close to 2D Kanban. 

First of all, we can address limitations with assigning different card colors to different categories of items. Then swimlanes can be applied, when Kanban is not a board with just columns, but a grid of columns+swimlanes. Swimlanes or rows have been first applied in software development to represent features. Dividing any project into logical categories improves visuality of the board. We can call it the basic 2D Kanban. 

Similarly to features, swimlanes can represent different work areas in the project. In the illustration below a research project is divided into two work areas – laboratory and field. Such visual solution allows smooth cross-team collaboration between laboratory and field research departments. All involved teams and their managers can have a clear view on their tasks and responsibilities as well as a full overview of the project on one visual board.  

basic 2D Kanban board

Horizontal swimlanes often are used to represent stages of a project. When we complete a task in the first swimlane, the system takes it to backlog of the second and assigns accordingly. An example can be manufacturing and quality control. Using swimlanes to represent stages works best if all stages have the same process. However, if manufacturing and quality control processes involve different stages, we cannot apply the same board with the same columns.  

Therefore swimlanes are not enough to define a 2D Kanban board. It is rather multiple parallel lines without second dimension, than a two-dimensional plane. 

Full 2D Kanban. 

No doubt – for more complex processes fixed swimlanes are not enough. Think about involving distributed teams, dividing project into stages and process into smaller steps.  Kanban in the context of knowledge work requires unlimited columns+swimlanes combinations. And we need to switch them fast, in a few clicks. This is where any physical board usually reaches its limits of ability to visualize and becomes too difficult to maintain.  

It is quite usual to divide larger tasks into small subtasks or to-do list. When we pull a large task to the next stage, subtasks just follow. But smaller tasks usually have their own schedule and are not ready for the next step at the same time. Traditional Kanban systems have limitations of work details management. They force you to choose either look only at high level work or at detailed level of work, this results in at least two different Kanban boards, one for „Project portfolio” or “Epics” board while the 2nd one focuses on detailed work which becomes detached from their hierarchical parents. 

2D Kanban board below illustrates a solution for visualizing the full process including management of subtasks.  We represent bigger units of work with reduced details during planning and prioritization phases. When we move them to WIP (Work In Progress) they unfold in to details and start showing smaller items in swimlanes. This way we give our board a second dimension – we can now manage full scope of the project and follow detailed tasks on the same board at the same time. 

2D Kanban Board example

Professional work management systems like Teamhood represent rows and columns as two axis of freedom.  This way we maintain relationship, tackle complexity and visualize large amount of work on one digital kanban board. 

Visualize anything

Digital 2D Kanban solutions offer a universal platform for planning and teamwork. Companies provided with an easy and visual tool have unlimited ability to visualize anything. In addition to rows and columns there is possibility to use card colours, tags and assign tasks to employees. Adding advanced filters to this mix, users can toggle views with a few clicks between global scope, personal assignments and team priorities. 

With Teamhood it can take less than five minutes to create a 2D Kanban board. It is made to be as easy to start, just as a regular whiteboard. Just list down your process and subprocess steps (columns) and define categories (rows). If the board doesn’t look fitting to your needs, try another one. When tasks start moving, take advantage of the visuality, engage your team and improve your processes further. Have fun! Make Your project a success! 

Teamhood is a hyper visual project and team management solution that helps companies to streamline business processes and deliver results faster. Teamhood is designed for professional teams seeking efficiency at work and full empowerment of their talents. Teamhood provides workspaces, customized boards with fine-tuned time tracking, collaboration functionalities as well as visual agile metrics reporting.
Teamhood is developed by Eylean, a project management software company since 2011. Eylean products are valued by its numerous customers globally such as Mercedes AG, Festool, Johnson&Johnson, Rabobank and others.

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