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Kanban: breaking down and visualising your work

3 min, 21 sec read
10:15 AM | 22 May 2015
by Lars Bjornbakk
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This is the third part of a series looking at managing your time and projects. Read the first part (An overview of project management) and second part (Using Timebox and Sprints).

As I’m now in the final stages of my masters degree in project management, it’s time to devote full attention to my dissertation. This is basically a four month long project. I’ve got four months to start from scratch: come up with an idea on what to write about, make sure there is enough literature and research to support what I want to write, collect data to support my own hypotheses and so on.

I’m currently in the very early stages of this, so at the moment I’m approaching the point of “where the hell do I start”.

You might have read some of my previous articles, and by that you know I’m a believer in the agile way of working. This means that now; starting my dissertation, I’ll begin with planning the high level requirements my thesis needs to cover, and I don’t stress the fact that I’ll learn more about what I’m actually doing later in the project.

There is however the issue of “where do I start?”. Well, luckily I’ve got the perfect tool to: it’s called Kanban, and is a awesome schedule system that allows you to visually plan and move work towards completion. And it’s always great seeing your work progressing bit-by-bit.

It works quite simply by separating work into three or more columns, depending on the nature and complexity of your project. The basic columns are:

  • Backlog: all the stuff you have to do
  • Work in progress (or WIP): Which is the stuff you are currently working on. It’s often good to place a limit on this, so that you keep yourself from being too ambitious and keeps you focused on the work you should be doing; assuring that what you do keeps a good standard.
  • Completed: the work that is ready to be signed off, or controlled against the assessment criteria, making sure your work has a purpose and value.

You can expand on this, for example; if you’re working on a very complex project with a lot of components that need to be done, it can often be a good idea to have a additional column between the backlog and the WIP dedicated for upcoming work.

I currently use for my dissertation. Trello is a excellent (and free) web-based Kanban tool, and has a app for your phone; making it easy to have control on the go.

My Kanban board looks as following:

  • Backlog; everything the assignment asks for, and anything I think I can add to make it better.
  • Upcoming work; what I should start preparing for.
  • WIP; The things I’m currently working on. I’ve got a limit of three here (meaning I cannot work on more than three things at the time).
  • Quality check; making sure I deliver what is expected, and that what I have written has a good enough standards. I’ve got a limit of five on this column.
  • Completed; Giving me control of what I’ve done. This makes it easier to determine what I should refine in the next iteration.

I’m applying the MoSCoW rule to every requirement I add to my backlog. This helps me determine what I should focus on doing first; and so far it has worked great.

Another major benefit of working in this way is that you are forced to break your project down into bits; making it easier to see what you need to do and what you actually are doing. Combine this with an agile approach, and you’ll have a project powerhouse. Go ahead, give it a try for your next project.

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