Where does the process of optimizing our Kanban board layout start? What, first and foremost, needs to happen to enable us to enhance collaboration, streamline workflows, and achieve better outcomes altogether?

Ultimately, empowering effective Kanban board design begins with a shift in our perspective from managing individuals to managing the work itself. The way we visualize our work on the board has the potential to either boost or hinder our improvement efforts.

A Fascinating Aspect of Human Cognition

It’s truly fascinating how our minds work, and understanding some of these cognitive biases can really help us optimize our Kanban board layout for better collaboration. One such bias that caught my attention is the framing effect, and it’s quite a game-changer.

Picture this: you’re presenting survey results to your team, and you have two ways to phrase the data. Option A: “90% of customers gave our product a 5-star rating for satisfaction.” Option B: “There are still 10% of customers who haven’t given our product a 5-star rating.”

In this example, you’re exposing the exact same information, however, the framing effect influences how people perceive it. I’d even argue, in this case, it affects how your team perceives success. Option A highlights the positive outcome of all their efforts, while Option B emphasizes their shortcomings.

The way the information is framed impacts how your teammates are thinking, feeling and behaving.

Your Kanban Board Layout Can Make or Break Your Team Performance

Now, what does it have to do with your Kanban board layout?

Here is the thing:

How you visualize your work on the board can shape how your team sees it. And that affects the choices they make, whether they realize it or not.

So, if the columns on your Kanban board represent different specialties, it kinda sends a message that everyone should just stick to their own columns and focus on their individual work.

But here’s the catch: if you start hearing phrases like “my work,” “your work,” and “their work,” it’s a big sign that something’s not right.

Getting things done is a team effort, not just an individual one. It involves a lot of moving parts and working together effectively. Sometimes, people from different specialties have to pitch in and help with tasks that aren’t strictly their expertise.

For example, let’s say all the work is piling up in the Testing state. If your developers think it’s solely the QA team’s job, they might stay away from it.

But in reality, to keep things flowing and deliver results faster, team members should be willing to jump in and help out in Testing.

And what if there’s an old task waiting in the Analysis state, and the analyst is busy with something else? Can a QA person step in to analyze it and keep things on track? Well, if they only see it as the analyst’s responsibility, they might not take the initiative.

The important thing is that your board should show how the work is moving through the process. The columns represent the steps in your workflow, and the team should self-organize around them to get things done efficiently.

It’s all about working together and delivering results as a team, not just as individuals. Keep that in mind when setting up your board!

Breaking Down Silos

Now, let’s analyze one of the most common examples of visualizing a development process that I often come across.

Kanban board without expedite swimlane

The layout of this Kanban board is pretty straightforward, but it places a strong emphasis on specialization.

If your board looks like this and you’re struggling with aligning your teammates around the work, I have a suggestion.

How about changing the names of your columns to make them more engaging and unique? Instead of Analysis, try calling it “Revealing Concepts.” For Development, consider “Crafting Results.” And instead of Testing, why not go with “Mitigating Risks”? Use your imagination!

Here’s your action item: Get your team together and have a brainstorming session to come up with new names for your columns. Make it fun and let your creativity flow. The goal is to break the connection between work activities and individual specialties in your team.

Strive to design a board that encourages your team to see themselves as a united group, promoting collaboration rather than making self-centered choices.

Your board should provide as much information as possible about the work, enabling people to move freely through the different activities, rather than being stuck in their own areas.

Let’s shift away from thinking about “my work,” “your work,” and “their work” and focus on “our work.” This mindset shift is the key to setting up a strong foundation and improving your team’s results.

I can’t wait to see you next week, same time and place for more managerial goodness. Bye for now!

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