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Group Kanban

This post is part of a series on Agile Learning Center tools and 2015 ALC Everett #debrief

The group kanban is heavily used by ALC Everett. It’s structure is similar to the personal Kanban but it’s focus is on group projects and tasks. It is functionally a lot like the offerings board in Agile NYC. It takes a central place in the school space and is where we hold our intention setting meetings.

Week one version of the group Kanban. Without a singular focus the Kanban become too scattered to maintain long term projects.
Week one version 0.1 of the group Kanban. Without a singular focus the Kanban become too scattered to maintain long term projects.

The first version of the group kanban was drawn onto a white board. It had the typical columns:

  • Possible – a catch all for any task, activity, or project we could think of
  • Ready – a place for anything that we were prepared to do
  • Doing – what we planned to do that day
  • Done – a column broken into day sections where to kept notes that would get cleared at the end of the week

On the far left was a column called “tracks” which contained three project area “swim lanes”:

  1. General stuff
  2. Maker space – any items that related to a maker space
  3. Deep future – a catch-all for big ideas or distant activities

The swim lanes formed rows across the board to give us some distinction between topic areas.

There was also a column called “awareness” which is part of the Community Mastery Board process, which I will ignore throughout this post.

This board was enough to jump start our process and was quickly iterated over in the coming weeks to create the version 0.2 Group Kanban.

Version 0.2 of the group kanban on the whiteboard

The main alteration to this version was adding hour rows to the done column. This way we could indicate when during the day we planned to do certain activities. This evolution came directly from using the first board. We would organize our doing “list” chronologically so when I redesigned the board I “paved the cow path” by incorporating what we already did into the new system design.

After a few weeks of testing out the board we were ready to make our version 1.0

Version 1.0 of the Group Kanban

Read more about the Group Kanban v1.0.

This new version of the Group Kanban added the offerings column where anyone could add offerings. These would then move into the flow of the kanban as we acted on them.

Issues with the Group Kanban

The Group Kanban wasn’t without issue. The main problem was that the board had a mix of tasks, projects, and activities all of varied scope. We ended up with sticky notes such as:

  • “Trip to Six Flags”
  • “Go to the park”
  • “Design Everett website”

Each of these sticky notes required a vastly different amount of planning and subsequent tasks. What ended up happening is that only the easy one off tasks would move across the board to the doing column while the larger scope projects would just sit in the possible column as something we wanted to do, never to move on…

Moving to a Goal Oriented System

To solve the Group Kanban issue I developed system that incorporated goal setting into the Kanban. What follows is an untested concept for the Group Goals Kanban.



As you can see, from Today column to the right is much the same as v1. The new areas are labeled with letters.

  • Idea area
  • Ideas under exploration
  • Ready ideas
  • Active ideas (doing)
  • Tasks goals for current month
  • Task goals for current day
  • Tasks completed this week

I’ll go through the rough workflow for the rest of the board, you can follow along with the numbered “notes” on the above illustration:

  1. Add an idea – A project, activity, or goal idea is added to the board in the idea (A) column. The “Term Goal Area” rows are optional subject areas that the community outlines before hand. For instance they might be general subject areas like science, math, and art. Ideas are then asked to fit into one of these goal areas.
  2. Promote idea to explore – Through a weekly or monthly meeting new ideas are discussed and a manageable number are promoted to the exploration (B) phase. These ideas are then put through a goal setting process. The goal setting process aims to determine if the idea is do-able and what things need to be done to achieve the goal. Ideas are either demoted back to the idea pool, removed, or pushed forward to…
  3. Ready idea – After an idea has been explored it is added to the ready column. Other “sub” tasks or milestones are added to a stack of stickies with the idea on top. This stack of stickies represents a well formed idea that is ready to begin working on.
  4. Start work – Once the group is ready to start working on the goal it is moved to the doing (D) column. The same principle of limiting the works in progress applies to this column, the group can only have so many active goals. This is one reason for the ready (C) column.
  5. “Task out” the goal – Every month (or cycle) milestones are selected from the goal (if there are any) and the tasks needed to accomplish them are laid out in the month (E) column. This provides a visual representation of what we want to do for the month (or cycle).
  6. Add tasks to the daily column – Each day tasks can be pulled from the month (E) column into the today (F) column. Alternatively if any individual wants to take a task from the board and add it to their personal kanban they most certainly can.
  7. Complete the task – Once a task is completed it is then added into the done (G) column and saved their for the reflection process

Note: this process was never fully implemented and is thus untested.

Project and meeting Kanban

There are other variations of group kanban boards. At ALC Everett we used kanbans for project and meeting management.

Below is the Web Dev Kanban that we used to create the Glacier Park Website and IXA.net. An extra column was added for Quality Assurance (QA) because we needed to test some tasks before committing them to done.

The web dev Kanban
The web dev Kanban

Next we have a picture of an impromptu kanban used for the first parent meeting. Topics for discussion were added to the left and moved right as we starting doing them. Topics that needed follow up or had tasks to do were assigned  to people in the tasks column. Using the kanban with a meeting made it very easy to visualize what we wanted to get done and recap what we had done and needed to do after the meeting finished.

We used the Kanban to run the first parent meeting.
We used the Kanban to run the first parent meeting.

Another impromptu kanban was used to sell a lamp. We quickly brain stormed what tasks needed to be done, each people took a task, added it to the doing column then set up to do it.

This made it very easy for other people to jump in and see what was going on and how far along we were to finishing the job.

An impromptu kanban used for visualizing the steps in selling a lamp on craigslist.
An impromptu kanban used for visualizing the steps in selling a lamp on craigslist.

Finally one of my favorite uses of the kanban was for our room by room clean up kanbans. Each room in the school (house) was assigned a kanban made from a folder. We spent some time going over the daily and weekly needs of each room and adding them to the kanban.

When someone set off to clean a room they knew exactly what they needed to do. As they completed each task they moved it to the done column. Once ever task for that room was finished they reset all the stickies and put it away for the next person.

This made a system that was easy to bring new people into. It kept single people from becoming the only ones who knew what had to be done in a particular room. Another example of making the implicit explicit.




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