Using Kanban – Making Sense And Agreeing on Work Together
For years now, together with the HR team, we’ve been looking for ways to prioritize work, channel the team’s future development proposals and find a better way to manage workload.
This autumn we found a concrete tool – the Kanban board, which we are now using.-Anna Lauhamaa – HR Manager, Finnish Red Cross, Blood Service–
The Kanban board is a Lean method that can be used to visualize work. Word “Kanban” originates from Japanese and it was initially used to describe tickets that were handed to people when they entered a park. With these tickets, it was possible to make sure that the maximum capacity of the park was not exceeded at each point of time.
This story tells you exactly what Kanban board is all about. The work we do is split into partial tasks that are to be completed before new tasks are started.
In the park, or in this case on the board, there is a maximum amount of work tasks at a time. Resources are distributed to focus on completing current tasks before anything else is started.
While focusing on ongoing work, an overall picture of upcoming tasks and their mutual priorities is being built. There is a development line on the board, from which even an outsider can easily see what each task is about, what needs to happen next and what is the longer-term plan.
This tool made it easier to understand the value of each tasks for the operations and how much resources each of them requires.
What Did It Take to Introduce Kanban Board
Introduction of the Kanban board sounds quite easy, but in practice it’s a bit more challenging than that. Above all, we had to figure out the deeper meaning of lean and really internalize customer centric thinking together. We were thinking about the benefits it could bring to our work, and what “Agile HR” means. Agile HR emphasizes, among other things, network-like structures, transparency, adaptability, self-guidance, and internal motivation. However, these topics are too broad to be covered in this blog post alone.
Once we were done understanding the background, we started building the board. Initially, we collected all the development issues and wrote them on post-its, which were quite large. Next, we had to assess each task and see how complicated and laborious it was. One important thing is that the trainer needs to have a holistic background in HR combining the experience and real cases with clear agile and lean education.
We’ve had a good start with the Kanban board and the members got used to it. We have meetings around the board every two weeks and go through the development work. Additionally, we manage the backlog and prioritize new initiatives quarterly. Our work is just in the beginning and we have a lot to learn about (for example, utilization of lead times and WIP – Work in Progress definition). However, the beginning is promising, and the board really seems to be helpful in prioritizing and managing our work.
How New Way of Working Helped The Team
The following are comments of team members about putting Kanban board into use:
Raija and Saana (Payroll): Kanban was a new thing and without external help it would have been difficult to get into the Kanban world. Cutting assignments into smaller parts and prioritizing them helps to figure out the required workload and urgency. The first post-it-cards transferred to the “Done” section created a great feeling in our team.
Merja (HRM Manager): Breaking assignments into smaller parts was surprisingly challenging and it still sometimes is. But, we learn by repeating. We’ve had some challenging situations before, but with Kanban, they’ve got a new shape and structure. The Kanban board is well suited for our team and will become a natural part of our work.
Helja (HR Specialist): Even though we are used to sharing information closely and making a lot of development together, Kanban made team development issues clearer. It helps to perceive the scale of the projects and how much time and dedication they need. The board helps clarify and keep the focus on tasks. It is important to remember that board contains only development issues, that is, we must continually spell out how much other daily work takes time and how much time we can use for development. Visibility and practicality are the strengths of this way of working, and I must say that using the board was very nice!
Anna (HR Manager): The best thing about Kanban is that the tool is common to the team and it was a good solution for the development work. Development issues are no longer merely project titles, but their content is made up of fragments whose completion brings joy!
Comments by the trainer, Riina Hellström
I’m real proud and super glad to see the Blood Unit’s HR team adopt this new way of working and collaborating. In just two months they are fast tracking learning and managing their own work, together. Some learning points from their journey so far has included:
- Realizing we are often too optimistic in evaluating the length or size of a project (story).
- AgileHR or LeanHR can be started in a light way, the Kanban board will evolve and change over time, and it should!
- Other people and leaders from around the organization have been interested in the table and the HR team has had plenty of visitors.
- It was crucial to have a deep dive into the agile and customer centric mindset together, before adopting the new way of working. This is just not a tool. It is a new way of thinking, together.We will be following The Finnish Red Cross, Blood Service’s HR team later on to see how this work proceeds.