Increase impact with this simple yet powerful project management tool

October 6, 2020

Project management is complicated.

It requires a tremendous amount of planning and thorough detailed communication (not to mention the numerous leadership aspects like motivation and accountability).

Since Enactus students are short on time juggling a full class load and part time jobs, your team needs a lightweight and simple - yet powerful - project management tool.

You need to clearly communicate all the things that need to be done, when they need to be done by, who is responsible for what.

Because of its simplicity and ability to scale, we recommend using the "Kanban Method" (or Task Board) within your Enactus team.

Kanban means billboard in Japanese, and the process was created in the 1940s to support the innovative lean manufacturing methods at Toyota.

Kanban helps teams visualize and manage their workflow.

Envision a white board with a Post-It for each task placed in 3 columns -- To-Do, Doing, and Done -- that's a basic Kanban Board.

Learning and applying the basic principles of a Task Board will help you regardless if you're using apps like Asana, Trello, or Monday -- as each offers a basic "Board" layout (in addition to offering List views, Calendar views, and more).

Regardless of where you team stands today -- with your processes or lack of processes -- Kanban is completely flexible to fit your existing processes while respecting your current roles and responsibilities.  

You can feel comfortable using a Kanban Board today, as opposed to waiting until next semester.

Now you might be thinking To-do, Doing, and Done is far too simplistic for our complex processes.

The good news is this process can evolve and scale to fit even the most complex projects, like this software development process with 14 columns.

So rest assured this is a tool you can use - both personally and professionally - throughout your career.

Here are a few basic principles for using a Kanban Board for your team and projects:

1) Visualize your work:

Place all your "task cards" within the Board so the team can visualize the workflow. Further visualize your tasks by a) adding colors or tags b) assigning the task owner and c) setting deadlines. Order your cards by priority from from top to bottom with your highest priority tasks being at the top (which makes intuitive sense).

2) Limit Work-In-Progress: 

Limiting work-in-progress (WIP) is a rule that defines the maximum number of task cards that your team can be "Doing" at one time -- this is foundational to the process. If your WIP limit is four (4), then your team can only have 4 task cards within the "Doing" column at any one time. Once a task is finished and moved into "Done" you can pull a task card from the "To-do" column into the "Doing" column. WIP limits help your team stay focused on completing current tasks; they also help the project leader reallocate members or resources to tasks that have become stuck. Start out with a conservative WIP limit and then move up as your team proves its ability to complete tasks quickly.

3) Create positive flow

Positive flow is the process where tasks move smoothly from left to right (from to-do, to doing, to done). Do task cards keep getting stuck and deadlines are being missed? Maybe your task cards are too large or vaguely defined. Many teams add a column after To-Do called "Breakdown" which is a step where the team breaks apart a large or vaguely defined task into clearly-defined manageable bits of work (what is right for your team, 1-3 hours?). I suggest adding a column called "SMART breakdown" to be intentional about making each task card a SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely) to set your members up for success. As you become more familiar with the process you'll get better at properly sizing and clearly defining your tasks (neither too small or too big, nor too vague) to help keep things flowing smoothly.

4) Define your policies / rules:

While the process is straightforward, there are rules which need to be explicitly stated to support collaboration. What criteria have to be met before someone can move a card to Done? Who decides which cards get pulled from To-do into Doing? Can anyone create a task for To-Do? How do we assign task owners? You want to find the right balance between having no established rules (which can lead to anarchy / chaos which could split the team), and being overly bureaucratic (I liked this definition "being overly concerned with procedure at the expense of efficiency or common sense").  You're going to make mistakes which is okay because you'll learn how and where to apply a rule or policy. The Project Leader should be responsible for clearly defining the rules of engagement and adjusting them as needed per project team. And that leads to the last principle.

5) Gradually and continuously improve:

This is likely the first time you've ever used this tool in a formal way within a team; you're going to make mistakes and its going to feel awkward but that's okay because that's the only way to learn. Because the process adapts to where you're starting at today, and because every team and every project is unique, you'll want to apply a mindset of continuous improvement. As your knowledge and experience of the process grows, I'm confident your teams will become more effective and agile as your confidence using the tool grows.

Now you might be wondering, "Where do I start?"

While there are many options, we recommend using Asana or Trello because both offers lots of basic features and and both have a version that is free.

Unfortunately, doesn't offer a free version, so its likely not a good option for your cash-strapped Enactus team.

Keep an eye out for future content like webinars and how-to guides on this topic.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or feel stuck implementing this project management tool along the way email

Create your first board today below for free:
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