Improving operational efficiency – Kanban and Basecamp

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We’re big fans of Basecamp here at Red Hound. We use it to collaborate on projects, to run our management activities, drive our recruitment and even for booking and approving leave. I wanted to share with you our recent experiences with trying to improve throughput and efficiency for a client team by using Basecamp as a platform for a Kanban board.

For those of you who may not have come across Kanban, this is a good place to start.

Our client’s team faced the following problems:

  • lots of tasks “on the go” with some items being “lost” in the system
  • “lost” items subsequently turning up as expedited work
  • low delivery rates from the team
  • no clear idea of the impact of unplanned tasks on scheduled work

Having read up about Kanban we thought it was worth a try. We’re not Kanban experts by any stretch of the imagination. However, the elements that interested us revolved around:

  • Maintaining outstanding, in flight and completed lists
  • Agreeing priorities at the start of the week
  • Limiting the number of in flight tasks

We started by creating a Basecamp project for the team and inviting all the relevant people to that project. We then agreed a visual emoji framework to indicate the relevant information for each task. Here’s our key:

emoji_key
We created a To Do list called Outstanding Tasks and added an entry for every currently outstanding task that the team was responsible for.

outstanding_tasks

We then agreed how many tasks we would allow to be active at any one time. Given that the team was three in size, we agreed that three would be a good idea to start with. We created a To Do list for those “in flight” tasks. Finally we created a To Do list where we would move tasks once they were completed. The Basecamp project looked a lot like this.

three_to_do_lists

We were then ready to go. The work flow that we agreed upon was as follows:

  • Agree the priorities for the week
  • Agree the tasks to be tackled this week
  • Drag these to the In Flight To Do lists
  • Work on the tasks
  • When completed, drag the tasks to the Completed list and pick up an Outstanding task

in_flight

In the normal operation of the Kanban board, the only way for a new task to be started is to complete an in flight task. Unfortunately, issues can arise in an unplanned fashion and sometimes tasks crop up that need to be worked on when the In Flight list is full. The beauty of the Kanban approach is that it is clearly visible when this situation arises. The discipline required is to “park” a currently In Flight task, move it back to the Outstanding list and then allow the unplanned tasks on to the In Flight list. The impact of switching tasks can be immediately seen.

So how did this help with the original problem of too many tasks in flight at the same time? The feedback from Emma, social media team member at The Write Angle: “Basecamp helped us to improve the efficiency of the team. The use of the Kanban board made it easier for us to see what we were working on and which stage it was up to. We also like the idea of “parking” tasks before allowing new tasks to be started.”

For us, it was a great success and seeing the improvement on the team was great. The collaborative nature of Basecamp provided the perfect platform for controlling, monitoring and allowing visibility on what the team were doing. There are other Kanban orientated software solutions available. However, for us, the flexibility of Basecamp allowed us to implement a lightweight Kanban process and Emma and her team reaped the benefits immediately.

Basecamp and Kanban – a great combination.

 

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