Why Managing Multiple Projects on the Same Kanban Board Is Crucial (+ How to Make the Most of It!)
Hey there! Welcome to another article on the Nave’s blog where we talk all things Kanban. My name is Sonya and today, we’ll chat about Kanban boards, multiple projects and how to make trustworthy data-driven decisions.
If your team works on multiple projects simultaneously, chances are you’re tracking your work on multiple Kanban boards, one for each individual project.
If this is you, you might be thinking, “What’s the problem with this approach, Sonya?”.
Here’s an excellent walkthrough of things that may go wrong.
What Happens When You Work on Multiple Projects and Your Data Is All over the Place
Imagine you’re a developer and you take part in multiple projects. If your work is spread across several Kanban boards, then, you as an individual, have multiple #1 priorities and #2 priorities. How misleading would that be?
Furthermore, and arguably an even more pressing issue with this system design is that you as a manager won’t be able to evaluate the capacity of your team. A team’s capacity is measured through the rate at which they deliver results. So, if you track your data on different Kanban boards, it can be quite challenging to come up with a reliable assessment.
If you don’t understand what the capacity of your team is, how do you know when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to an upcoming request?
Last but certainly not least, if your team works on several Kanban boards while juggling two, three or even more projects, how do you evaluate your team performance? If you don’t have a holistic view of the work your team is performing, it will certainly be difficult to forecast when you will deliver your projects.
Why Managing Multiple Projects on the Same Kanban Board Is So Important (+ How to Get the Most Out of It!)
All of these issues are caused by one simple mistake. Your boards represent your projects and they should depict your workflows.
When visualizing the flow of work, it is essential to remember that boards are created for each team, not for each project.
So, how do we manage multiple projects on one Kanban board?
Once you organize the data from all the projects your team is handling on the same Kanban board, it will become so much easier to answer the most pressing project management questions.
How to Prioritize Across Multiple Projects
When all of your tasks are visualized on the same Kanban board, it becomes straightforward to see what is the most important work the team should handle right now. The item on the top of each column on the board has the highest priority.
Even though your team members work on multiple projects, each and every one of them can only focus on one thing at a time. So prioritizing the most important things and organizing them on the board, is essential for the team as a whole to deliver on their commitments.
In a Kanban board, every task that goes onto the next process state is immediately placed at the bottom of the column. Then, once a team member has the capacity to handle new work, they pull in the task at the top of the previous column. This approach is called the FIFO method and it comes with tremendous benefits.
With it, everyone on the team knows what needs to be handled next, they eliminate multitasking and context switching and they perform in the most efficient manner.
Can Your Team Take On More Work?
Taking on new requests without considering the amount of work that your team is currently doing is dangerous. So, how do we know whether we can say “Yes, but later”?
When a new request arrives, you need to use the feedback from your Kanban board to make this decision. That’s why it’s so important to track the work of all projects your team is handling in the same place.
Look into your board and see how much work you’re currently doing. If everyone on your team is already working on something, considering the new requests are not urgent, it is better to wait until something has been delivered, before you start any new work.
If you don’t perform that evaluation and start the new request immediately, what you’re essentially doing is suspending another work item in progress. You borrow time and you generate flow debt. This approach could go tremendously wrong if the work item you’re suspending has a higher priority than the one you’ve just started.
Every time you say yes to something, you are saying no to something else at the same time. Be aware of these choices!
How to Make Reliable Project Delivery Forecasts
One of the most reliable approaches to making accurate future predictions is to use your past performance data and simulate what the possible outcomes are. This is where Monte Carlo comes into play.
The Monte Carlo simulation runs a large number of random trials using your past throughput data to produce a probabilistic forecast. It provides a range of delivery dates along with the probability of hitting each target in just a couple of minutes. How impressive is that?
Here is another reason why you should manage the work of multiple projects on the same Kanban board. Monte Carlo (and any other approach to forecasting!) works with your team’s past performance data. And measuring your team’s performance across multiple boards will be quite challenging.
So Where Is the Tricky Part?
Now, you might be thinking, “Alright, Sonya this all sounds great but does this approach work with items of different sizes?”.
It certainly does.
The only prerequisite to producing reliable delivery predictions is to optimize your system for predictability. And if you are struggling to make this work, I’d be thrilled to welcome you to our Sustainable Predictability program.
Here is your action item: Create a new Kanban board and visualize all the work your team handles, even if it spreads across multiple projects.
And if you need some extra help organizing your Kanban board, we are giving away the first module of our program for an entire week. It’s all about how to build a Kanban system design to set up solid foundations for your predictable delivery system, so don’t miss out on this opportunity.
Go through the lessons and implement the concepts. At the end of the module, you will find a workbook that will guide you along the way. Once you’re done, send me your work at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll personally review it and give you my feedback.
The purpose of a Kanban board is to provide a greater level of transparency in your workflow. When set up correctly, it enables you to improve the reliability of your data, which in turn leads to accurate data-driven decisions, especially when you’re managing multiple projects. And that’s what project management is all about.
If you’d be so kind to share this article with friends and colleagues who might find useful insights in today’s piece, I’d be forever grateful!
I’ll see you next week, same time, same place. Have a wonderful day!
Meet the Author
Sonya Siderova is a passionate product manager and a driving force behind Nave, a Kanban analytics suite that helps teams improve their delivery speed through data-driven decision making. When she's not catering to her two little ones, you might find Sonya absorbed in a good heavyweight boxing match or behind a screen crafting a new blog post.