Have you ever worked hard to design the ideal work process and then been disappointed when your team just doesn’t see things the way that you do? Perhaps they pretend to follow along when you describe how the process should work, but then you realize a few weeks later that people are working around the process in some less than effective manner? There’s a solution to this problem: a visual project board that everyone on your team utilizes. Here’s the how and why a visual project board will level up your team

I’ve been trained in business process reengineering, lean manufacturing, and project management. I know that the cards in the Kanban style of project management flow from left to right—or, more accurately, that they get pulled into the right side of the board from further upstream in the process.  

left to right
Left to Right

Creating Cardsmith has shown me that my perspective is just one way, not the way.  

Some people visualize workflow as tasks entering a funnel at the top, with fewer and fewer of those tasks passing down through into later stages of the process. They like to build their Cardsmith boards top to bottom, not left to right.

top down
Top Down

Other people see their best ideas bubbling up from the bottom. They might brainstorm hundreds of ideas, and then make a grid where they move cards from “ideas” up to “favorite ideas,” conduct some more research or prioritization, and then move the cards up again to a row labeled “do now”. In this sense, work flows from the bottom to the top.

bottom up
Bottom Up

All of these methods are valid. The point isn’t what direction the work flows in—up, down, left, right, up and left, in a loop or concentric spirals—but simply that it flows. And, in order to get it to flow, you need a system that works for you. If more than one person is involved, the system should work for the whole team.

This kind of collaboration can get tricky. Maybe some people on the team like to see cards change color when each card’s status changes, while other people envision cards moving along a process. Or they want to use color to designate a card’s owner. Again, no/neither way is wrong, but it’s important that everyone who uses the board understands how it works and what the visual representations mean.

So, what should you do if people on the team “see” things differently? I suggest that the team let the person closest to the actual work decide the initial structure of the board. Then, the entire team should use the board, see what works and what doesn’t work well, and collaboratively develop a structure over time that works for everyone.

For example, here at Cardsmith, we use our own platform to track bugs. The entire team is involved in discovering, documenting, and testing bugs from time to time, but our two-person development team are the ones who use the board daily. They’re the two whom this board serves most directly. It should work the way they think, right?

And yet, if someone on the team—perhaps a QA tester who just can’t wrap his head around tracking things top to bottom—the two developers might concede, and go with the QA guy’s suggestion that the board flow from left to right.

The key is to have the team use the board together, in collaborative work sessions, either in person or remotely. Have team members move cards around, change the cards’ colors, and make notes while everyone looks at and discusses the same board together. When everyone participates, the board belongs to all. As a result, the structure starts to morph and form over time to match the thinking of the group, the members of which are also coalescing into a team. The board starts to reflect the way the team thinks.

With Cardsmith, you can easily change the structure as you learn how to work better together as a team. With our new board commenting feature, you can even collaborate on the structure of the board virtually and asynchronously. Changing the structure is quick, easy, and practical—because every time you alter your board in a collaborative session, it melds your group members’ different mindsets into the mindset of the team. Then, magic happens and work starts to really flow!  

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