#atozchallenge K is for the Kanban Technique

This is a bonus post for today. The previous post was on a philosophy of Kaizen – small continuous improvement. From a similar source (Toyota) there is another philosophy which is taking the world by storm – that of Kanban.

Kanban is a project management / time management technique which can be helpful in our everyday and writing lives also.

The Origins of Kanban, and What it Means for Us

“A kanban is a tool to visualize, organize, and complete work. The first official use of kanban can be traced to Taiichi Ohno’s work at Toyota. He needed a way to quickly communicate to all workers how much work was being done, in what state it was, and how the work was being done. His goal was to make work processes transparent – meaning he wanted everyone, not just managers to know what was “really” going on.  The goal was to empower line workers to improve how Toyota worked. Everyone had a hand in making Toyota better”. – Jim Benson, author of ‘Personal Kanban‘.

The word Kan means “visual” in Japanese and the word “ban” means “card”. So Kanban refers to “visual cards.” What is a visual card?

Basically Kanban – with a literal translation of “signboard” or “billboard”, is a scheduling system for lean and just in time (JIT) production. The visual aid is what triggers action – nobody wants to see those cards going backwards, or not moving across or flowing. Kanban took the world by storm as one of those many management and production techniques, especially relevant to software production, and agile manufacturing.

Now, businesses use Kanban when providing a visualised project management system, and we, as writers, can easily use the concept in our own writing projects.

“When you “see” your work, you can understand it better”

The Kanban System in a nutshell

  1. KanbanbasicStick a large corkboard or whiteboard up on your wall (or use the wall itself) – the system works by allowing you to see your productivity.
  2. Draw out three columns and label them – Left – “Backlog”, Middle – “In Progress” or “Working” or “Doing” and Right – “Done”.
  3. Now write out all your tasks you need to do onto index cards, or sticky-notes. Stick them up onto the appropriate column.
  4. Move the cards over from left to right as the work is progressed.

As simple as that. But what it does is –

  1. Shows us – or gets us to think about – all the small tasks needed to complete the writing project.
  2. Shows us the work we have in progress
  3. Shows us all the work we haven’t gotten to yet
  4. Shows us how efficiently we work

Other Systems, and Not Over-Complicating it


Kanban is simply a visualisation technique for our work productivity, and the flow of tasks. It can easily be made compatible with your to-do list system, something like David Allen’s Getting Things Done, or your current process.

When initially looking at it, I was tempted to mutate the columns into many more – one for prep-writing, then the first draft, then rewrites, then further edits, then… and this is quite possible, if I had a board big enough.

But I’d have a thousand sticky notes falling off the wall.

What is important, I believe, is developing an efficient way of prioritising all those tasks, and making sure that the right stuff is getting done at the right time (or as the Japanese suggest – just in time).

I’ve previously stated that I don’t really get along with to-do lists myself. But I am awaiting a big old whiteboard to put on the wall. With some coloured markers, and coloured sticky notes, choosing some simple next action tasks and flowing them across the board seems more like fun.

And yes, you can get tools and apps for  it but honestly – seeing it all up there as coloured notes on a wall is a real motivator.

Further Reading:

  • The website accompanying the Personal Kanban book provides several tutorials on kanban
  • Everyday Kanban offers a big shelfari bookshelf on the topic.

Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life

AtoZ2013 _thumb

A-to-Z-Core-Habits3-_thumb.jpgThis blog post participated in April 2013’s Blogging from A to Z Challenge, along with many other blogs on subjects as diverse as writing, foodie blogs or mummy blogs.

This blog post is part of a themed series or pack on Writer’s Core Habits. I acronym this as WCH or WCHP © . Do a search for these tags, and you will find more in the series.

No affiliate links are used in these posts.

6 thoughts on “#atozchallenge K is for the Kanban Technique

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