The vertical kanban

“At at any point in time, knowing what has to get done, and when, creates a terrain for maneuvering.” — David Allen

After years of failing to use a traditional personal kanban, I came up with a version of kanban that I’ve been now using for several months and that better suits my need. It’s the vertical kanban.

Kanbans are all about flows, flows of value. Traditionally, the flow goes horizontally, let to right, but in the vertical kanban, the flow goes vertically bottom-up. Each column of the kanban represents a value creation flow, and always on top of each flow, the next action. In each column a marker “DONE” separate what has been done (below the marker), from what has to be done (above the marker).

This kanban allows me to see :

  • what’s on my plate, and
  • for any flow of value, what’s the next action
  • These are 2 principles that I learned in my Holacracy training, and which are inspired by Getting Things Done.

This vertical kanban is easy to implement using online tools like trello. The key features I like about it are:

  1. Top view: at any point in time, the high priority items are always on top.
  2. Single board: often in the past I would end up with several kanban boards, typically one per project. With the vertical kanban, I can capture several streams of value creation and therefore have everything on a single board.
  3. Limiting WIP: I currenlty have 5 flows of value, and managed not to have to create more. This is in fact how I have so far limited my Work In Progress (WIP).
  4. Value driven: being the type of person having more ideas than what I can handle, I can stack ideas as they come up in each column flow. Having to put them in a flow forces me to assess the value it brings to that flow.
  5. Overload indicator: A very low line of DONE cards tells me straight away that I have accumulated to many ideas and tasks. It is time to clean up and “stop starting and start finishing”!

Let me know if you give the vertical kanban a try. Surely there are ways to improve it to be shared!