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Thomas Carney
Thomas thinks of ways to make Planio grow, writes content and ponders metrics.
April 28, 2016 · 3 min read

Kanban Boards: the Psychology of Cards

You see the whiteboard covered with tiny little cards arranged in columns below?

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You’re looking at a Kanban board.

And it might just change everything about how you work.

Kanban originated in the 1950s when Toyota revolutionized how they manufactured cars using “Just-in-Time” manufacturing techniques.

The idea spread to the software industry in the late 90s.

And now Kanban boards are loved by people in software, marketing, design and operations as an approach to visualizing work-in-progress.

The Elements of a Kanban Board

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Let’s break down a Kanban board.

The board is your project or your team’s work.

A team will use one board to visualize all the work they have on.

The columns on the Kanban board represent the various stages of work.

The most basic column structure could be: To-Do, Doing and Done.

But you can customize it to suit your individual situation.

Does the client review each piece of work? Then Client Review could be a column or lane on your Kanban Board.

And then you have the individual cards on the Kanban board.

They can be really simple: you just write down a to-do task, for example.

Or, if you’re using an online Kanban board, you’ll be to include person owning it, the due date or comments from others on the card.

That’s the basics of any Kanban board: the board, the columns and the cards.

Why Are Kanban Boards So Very Popular?

You might be wondering what’s the big fuss about post-it notes or dragging cards around a screen?

What turns people like you into avid Kanban fanatics?

Well, I remember working at a company where we used Kanban boards to track tasks.

The CEO had finally completed a task that was lingered on “Doing” for quite a while, and his assistant moved it over to “Done”.

The CEO came charging out of his office, stuck his head in the door of our open office room and demanded who’d updated his cards on the Kanban board.

He wanted to move the card himself!

You see, I think people find Kanban boards fun. They add in a dash of gamification into your daily work.

They also help you think about what exactly you’re doing right now.

In Kanban you often limit the amount of tasks you’re currently working on.

It’s something I’ve seen myself when I work. When I try to do 10 things at once, I don’t progress at 1/10 of the speed on all the tasks.

Instead, I make very little progress at anything at all.

I think that why people really enjoy using Kanban boards to manage their tasks: they’re fun, intuitive and focus you on a limited amount of tasks.

Physical Kanban Boards vs Digital Kanban Boards

MovingImage uses physical Kanban boards as you can see in this video:


The idea is that you grab cards, write down the task and then start sticking them to the board.

Having a physical Kanban board plays an important role in transmitting information within the company.

This aspect of physical Kanban boards is often referred to as “information radiator”. For example, you can stroll past the Kanban board, coffee in hand, and see that something is sitting on “doing” for a long time, and you could help get it done very quickly. So, you tell the person working on it, and you knock off the task in no time.

It’s also fun to grab physical cards and move them around the board. Often, you’ll have a daily standup meeting in the morning when the entire team stands around the Kanban board talking about what they’ve been working on and what they have planned for the day.

Physical Kanban board win points here.

At the same time, physical Kanban boards have their limitations. It’s hard to write much down on a little card.

That’s why many teams use an online Kanban board such as the Kanban board built into Planio:

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You’re able to add a lot of extra information to each card such as comments, time spent, due dates and much more.

More importantly, your team can update the board even if they aren’t in the office right now.

And if your team is distributed across the world like the Planio team, having an online Kanban board means you can work together with team members all over the world.

In fact, MovingImage actually use both a physical board as well as the Agile board in Planio, so they get the benefits of both.

How You Can Use Kanban Boards

Kanban boards really took off in the software industry. The Scrum approach to project management uses a Scrum board that’s very similar to the Kanban board. You’ll get an introduction to scrum in this article.

Marketing Teams

Online marketing campaigns have got a lot for complicated. You can have to coordinate writers, social media managers, editors and web development teams in order to ship campaigns

Small details can make all the difference in the success of a campaign. So, a Kanban board will be very helpful for visualizing what needs to be done.

Side Project Hustle

You can start getting more done by using a Kanban board for your personal projects having a backlog of “To Do” and only one or two items in your “To Do” column.

I find it focuses your mind on always having one thing to do right now.

You can mix together a productivity system such as the Pomodoro technique, and see how much you can get done in 25 minutes every day.

Tracking Sales Opportunities

Going back to the idea about making tasks fun, some people have found that using a Kanban board to map out current opportunities is an effective way to track sales.

Obviously, it’s probably not going to scale beyond a couple of people. But it can be very effective for a small team just starting out. It’s a lightweight alternative to the set-up intensive sales CRMs.

So, that’s a quick introduction to Kanban boards and what they can do for you.

I’d encourage you to try it out for yourself. Create a Planio account, start playing around the Agile board, and see what you think of it. 

Have fun!

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