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Posted by Carl on Jan 14, 2014

How do I use Kanban to help my Hobby Progress?

Recently I have received several questions from listeners who may not have been around for Epsiode 82 and who are asking “What is a Kanban board and how do I use one exactly?”

So I thought I would write this quick little tutorial to show you how to get started on a simple Kanban Board and then leave it up to you to take it as far as you want.

First a little background:

In the late 1940s, Toyota started studying supermarkets with the idea of applying store and shelf-stocking techniques to the factory floor. In a supermarket, customers obtain the required quantity at the required time, no more and no less.

Furthermore, the supermarket stocks only what it expects to sell within a given time frame, and customers take only what they need, since future supply is assured. This observation led Toyota to view a process as being a customer of one or more preceding processes, and the preceding processes are viewed as a kind of store. The customer “process” goes to the store to obtain required components which in turn causes the store to restock. Originally, as in supermarkets, signboards were used to guide “shopping” processes to specific shopping locations within the store.

Kanban aligns inventory levels with actual consumption; a signal is sent to produce and deliver a new shipment when material is consumed. These signals are tracked through the replenishment cycle, bringing visibility to both the supplier and the buyer.

Kanban uses the rate of demand to control the rate of production, passing demand from the end customer up through the chain of customer-store processes. In 1953, Toyota applied this logic in their main plant machine shop.

So that’s a lot of description you probably don’t need but it never hurts to help explain some of the origins of the Kanban system. Kanban in Japanese literally means “signboard” or “billboard”.

project-kanban-004At it’s core it is just a board that you divide into multiple columns, put tasks in each column and then move the tasks from left to right, across the board as you complete each one. This system makes it very easy for anyone to look at your board (including yourself) and see exactly where things stand.

A physical Kanban Board is typically placed on a wall or white board and uses color coded post-it notes for each type of task. Here is an example of a physical Kanban board: Note that this is a very complex one – and not being used for our hobby. Kanban systems are all the rage right now in the software industry, but they are really being used in automotive plants and such as well.

I prefer the digital Kanban board to an actual physical Kanban board, because I am able to track things even when I am away from my hobby area. To do this, I use a system called Kanbanflow. You can sign up for a free account at Kanbanflow.com and start using it right away. It is very easy to set up.

So how do you actually use the board?

Step One:
kanban1To keep it in the context of our hobby – here is an example of what my digital Kanban board looks like:

The first thing that you need to do is spend some time setting up the board how you want it. I personally have columns, as you can see, for things I want to Aquire, Ready for Assembly, Prepped for Painting, Painting in Progress, and Completed.

You will notice I added another column for Adepticon Preparation – this is a special column I created just to keep my Adepticon tasks in one place. (I would normally use what is called a Swim Lane for those tasks, which is another horizontal lane, but that is only available on the paid version of Kanbanflow and this meets my needs.)

These are the stages of model work from purchase to completion that I like to use to differentiate where each of my projects sit. You can use the same or change it up to what fits you. That’s what is great about the system. It is very personalized to you. This step does NOT take long to do. You are able to add as many columns as you would like – but I would suggest keeping it to a manageable amount.

Step Two:
The next thing you are going to do is going to take you a little bit of time. You are going to have to go through all of the models/projects that you want to put into your Kanban board and create tasks for them. This is as simple as right clicking and creating a new task. The Kanbanflow system is VERY intuitive as you will find. To help speed this up, I made a task I used as a “template” and then just right clicked and copied it, changing the information on the new task to match what I needed (See Kanban Tips at the bottom).

Step Three:
kanban4Start Hobbying!

As you complete various stages of projects, you move the task from left to right across the board. The final move is to the completed column. In the example I am showing you here, I have finished assembling and priming my Hive Tyrant-Winged, and I am ready to move him into the Painting In Progress column. So I just click and drag the task to the new column. Note that I put the Hive Tyrant BELOW the Thunderhawk Gunship I am painting. This is because I prioritize my tasks with the most important being at the top down to the least important. In a TRUE Kanban system, tasks ALWAYS move to the bottom of a column as they move across the board (unless they are on some type of fast-track swim lane). But we aren’t being that stingy about it. We are simply trying to organize our projects a bit.

Kanban Tips:
Also notice that my Painting in Progress column has a LIMIT to the number of items I can put into it. This is because the problem I was having is that I was bouncing from task to task, without actually completing anything. By putting this limit there, I ensure that I remain focused on those items until one is completed. Another item CANNOT move into that column until I clear one out. It’s a bit of a mental game for me that keeps me on task. No one is going to get fired or in trouble if I don’t follow this here or there. But I like to hold myself accountable to it.

kanban5Earlier I mentioned that when populating my Kanban board, I would make a “template task” and just copy it. The reason I did this, is that you will see you can create sub-tasks, or steps, within a task. Like you can see in the image provided, completing my Hive Tyrant-Winged (which is in the Painting in Progress column) has several other steps I like to check off as they are completed. It’s all about staying motivated, and little pieces of progress keep me going!

If you are REALLY serious about managing your projects or you are trying to get ready for a tournament in time or some other deadline, you can actually introduce due dates and see things go overdue! Play around in it and you will see it is easy to use. I haven’t really bothered with scheduling at this point because I am just keeping track of what I am doing for myself. Which leads me to…

Where this REALLY shines is when you are working as a group on a project and people have their own individual contributions they need to complete. It allows the entire team to see exactly what it going on and who is falling behind so they can help out where needed.

I would also point out that there are many different types of Kanban systems out there. I chose Kanbanflow because it was quick and easy to get to the place I wanted to be.

I hope this has helped – I know using this system has helped myself and many others over 2013 and into 2014!

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