July 21, 2011

Marketing and Kanban: Will it Work?

Buzzwords have been known to make me cringe, which is why I can’t believe I’ve jumped on the Agile bandwagon. Or dipped my toe in the Agile pool. Or gone for a swim in the Agile ocean. But let me explain. In Alan Bustamante’s last blog post, he let the marketing and Kanban cat out of the bag. Seapine isn’t exclusively an Agile company, but Agile seems to be working its way into teams and processes throughout the company. The marketing team started using a Kanban board this past spring for a number of reasons. I’d like to share some thoughts and observations with you. It seems that every marketing project is high priority and, in an ideal world, should have been completed yesterday. Honestly, the marketing team has struggled with project visibility for years. More specifically, it’s been hard to know who is working on what and gauge overall project status. It was easy to overlook when the team was smaller. As the team grew, it became obvious that we needed to find a solution. That’s where the Kanban board comes in. Matt, Seapine’s product marketing manager, was using a Kanban board for his projects. He was also well aware of the issues facing the marketing team. After a brief discussion with Matt, during which he explained the basics of using a Kanban board, I was intrigued enough to leave my Agile buzzword pre-conceived notions behind. We decided to create a Kanban board for the marketing team. All we needed was a magnetic whiteboard, colored magnets, and index cards. [caption id="" align="alignright" width="269" caption="Marketing's Kanban Board"]Marketing Kanban board[/caption] Our board has five columns: Backlog, Development, Review, Running, and Complete. Project tasks are written on index cards (white for most tasks, red for tasks with external due dates) and parked in the Backlog column. When someone is ready to work on a new task, they grab it from the Backlog and move it to the Development column, using their colored magnet to let everyone else know it’s their task and they’re working on it. As tasks are worked on, they move through the other columns. In the few months since we’ve been using the Kanban board, it has made a difference. Our board is prominently displayed in the marketing area. With one glance, team members (and anyone in the company who is interested) can quickly find out the status of active projects. We can also tell if we’re bogged down as a team. Too many tasks in the Development column means it’s time to find out if someone needs help with a task, or if there’s a problem they need help resolving. Is the Kanban board perfect? No, but it’s much better than the hidden system we were using before. We still have to put out fires, and not every project makes it onto the board. But it has helped with project visibility and focus. Will it work in the long-term? I certainly hope so. I’ll provide updates and lessons learned, so make sure you follow along. Any comments, questions, or suggestions? I’d love to hear from you!