Developing learning experiences is knowledge work. Knowledge work makes it hard to observe work in process. Toyota initially developed Kanban for manufacturing, organizing the factory to visually see the process more clearly. Kanban allows Toyota to see components queued up for various process steps, and to establish pull with downstream process steps requesting resupplying when they need it. Unlike with knowledge work one can easily see the manufacturing inventory of work in process by walking around a factory floor. See the blog entry [1] of the original creator of Kanban for knowledge work for more details on how he created Kanban from 2004-2006. David also applied the Theory of Constraints at Microsoft. David presented his work at various conferences. Andersen’s book Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for your Technology Business, identifies the principles he discovered. An important principle that Andersen’s Kanban includes is borrowed from Lean and is called visualize the workflow. After learning about David Andersen’s work, we began to experiment with using Kanban boards to visualize our workflow for making learning experiences.

When working alone, "workflow" is an easy thing to visualize. Some people still use an inbox and an outbox on a real desk, so let’s use that scenario to illustrate a one-person workflow in the following figure. If you first have to identify all the tasks that must be accomplished and put them into the inbox, then this comes first.

Figure 1. One-Person Workflow

Next, combine three to seven people on a team and their workflow may look different. Let’s say you’ve just gotten an existing training analysis, and your team is asked to build learning experiences appropriate to that analysis. Your colocated team gets a group work area with a white board nearby. One team member draws the following columns for the workflow steps, and the team lists the work items that have to be done on sticky notes and puts them on the board in the in box, which we’ll now call a "To Do List" or backlog. Your workflow is now visible to the entire team.

These Kanban columns are only illustrative. They do not need to be the columns used for your Kanban. It can be as simple or as complex as you need for your context. Your columns may vary.
Figure 2. Whiteboard Workflow Columns Example

Next, the instructional/LX designers each pull one or two work item cards into the design column and those instructional/LX designers begin to work on those few items.

Figure 3. Next Step, Tracking the Progress of the Work In Process

Work continues for this step until those work items are done. Then, you move the work item cards to the next step/column of the workflow, and the opening in the Design column allows two more work item cards to be pulled into that column.

Figure 4. Seeing the Work Move Through the Workflow

Determine the workflow steps for your team’s process and then you’re ready to make a Kanban board.

Rather than the team lead updating some report or spreadsheet about the team’s progress, the team members each move the cards they take accountability for, and the entire team can see the state of the current work in process anytime, 24-hours per day. Their management and the Buyer sees the Kanban board snapshot at least once per day during the daily standup meeting.

Visualizing workflow is not complicated. Although we will discuss more specifics of Lean-Agile later, this is sufficient for understanding what is meant by visualizing workflow for the time being.


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