Digital Kanban boards – to align distributed teams

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The most visible tool in a lean organization is the use of Kanban boards. The focal point for short daily meetings and progress reporting. Distributed sales and sales support teams need their Kanban boards to be digital. A new tool as important as e-mail.

The role of the Kanban board

The Kanban board provide the team with an overview of main flows and actions rippling through the system. The matrix structure have flows on one axis and states on the path to completion on the other axis.

Each new task is propagating towards completion. Both the action owner and possible contributors have visibility of tasks in the pipeline. As all have visibility of the task and its state it is easy to track possible issues and how the rest of the team can support the resolution.

All team member can support the task owner with ideas on value add and how to advance the task to the next state. Frequent meetings secure no tasks idle in one state too long.

Structure your Kanban board for best tracking

The X by Y structure is well defined for the state parameters, e.g. Identified, Started, Awaiting inputs, Progressing, Completed. Your job here is to pick among common states you find best for your business.

The other axis deals with the flows you want to focus on for your efficiency improvements. In its simplest form you might start with two flows. One pull from customers and sales team and one for pushing out. The two flow model is simple to start with but provide little guidance on where to focus the teams energy.

As your team mature you are likely to break up the pull activities into 3-4 flows with high efficiency potential. By selecting flows you start driving the team to make larger improvements for critical flows. Rather than aiming for little gains for everything.

Specific challenges with a distributed digital set-up

The use of a physical board is less applicable in sales teams. A sales team is more distributed to start with, and spend more time with customers and/or outside the office. The Kanban board for such teams need to be both digital and accessible from a mobile phone or a tablet.

There are many tools available to support you. And you are likely to face the reality of a “Shadow IT realization” for this tool. Both security aspects and diverse terminal platforms represent challenges for the team. But progress is rapid in this area. Business productivity tools is s fast growing segment. An approach where you are loosely coupled to a tool make sense as a starting point.

Questions for you and your team

1. Which flows should we have on our Kanban board – consider pros and cons with a simple vs. a focused approach.
2. How many tasks do we expect to juggle in parallel – set an ambition your team can handle and gradually raise the bar.
3. Which digital Kanban tool should we use – it is better to start than to be perfect.
4. How do we secure our board can be transferred to another tool – a reality to plan for from start.
5. Which IT support and considerations can we expect from our own IT department – if they already support a tool use it and feel privileged.

Additional reading 

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