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  1. […] if there are several projects using the same people to express and purify proteins.  I’ve written before about how to create a Kanban board, so I won’t belabor this point. For the purposes of this post, I just want to point out that […]

    January 14, 2015
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  2. Steve Rogers said:

    Hi Melanie – I am a PI in the biological sciences and recently became interested in applying kanban methods to managing my research program. Your post (and the entire site) is full of interesting and helpful ideas. The challenge I am finding is trying to hybridize project- and task-centered perspectives and incorporating due dates. To use the example of a protein prep you used above, how would one use kanban to schedule starting the culture, inducing bugs, purifying the protein, run gels of fractions, etc. sequentially without losing how the purification itself fits into the larger plan? I have seen people use kanbans as a calendar (e.g. one lane per weekday), but that seems to run counter to the idea of using them to model workflow. Yet planning as a workflow doesn’t give me the feedback I need to ensure I don’t have too many things slotted for a given day. I’d be interested to learn your thoughts about this. Thanks for the blog – it’s tailored to a pretty specific niche audience, but I have learned a lot already! Best, Steve

    March 6, 2015
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    • Melanie said:

      Thanks for the kind words about my site. I’m glad you find it useful. That is nice to hear.

      The idea of kanban is that you don’t schedule so much as allow tasks to flow. The downstream steps in the process pull in work when the upstream steps complete. If that means that they have a little bit of downtime- called slack in kanban-land- that is seen as a good thing. People tend to use slack to improve their processes, so having some slack in the system is a good thing.

      Of course, this doesn’t entirely work if your tasks have hard dependencies- such as needing to start a cell culture between X and Y hours or days before transducing, or needing to book time on a shared instrument. Remember, kanban came out of factory work and factory parts don’t die if they aren’t used on time the way that cells do!

      Still, I think that even with some hard dependencies, there are multiple ways you could modify the ideas in kanban to still help you. It is hard to say what would be the best thing to do without knowing more about your research, but here are some suggestions:

      1. Start with thinking about what aspects of kanban you think will be most beneficial in your work. To me, the most important aspects are limiting work in progress and visualizing the workflow. But maybe some other aspect is what you think will help you- and if so, that will change how you decide to implement the ideas.

      2. Assuming you want the visualization and limiting work in progress aspect, one thing you can consider is pulling your kanban-like board up from the strictly task level to a higher level in which each step in your workflow actually encompasses a group of tasks. This is probably no longer a true kanban board, but so what? If it helps you, it is good. You might find after awhile that you see a way to break work into smaller chunks and head back towards a true task-level kanban, or you might not.

      For instance, if you want a “express protein” step in your workflow, have that encompass the necessary dependencies of preparing the cells, etc. Then it is up to the person doing that step to make sure the schedule works out.

      3. I have never used ONLY a kanban board to manage both my group’s work and my own work. In fact, right now without even having a group I have a kanban board (with several categories of backlog, because I find that useful) and I also still write a daily to do list- this is an old school to do list on paper, which I write the night before at the latest. In fact, I will sometimes start a list for a couple of days ahead if there are things I know I want to do on that day. You could do something similar with calendaring software if you prefer an electronic format.

      In previous work when I had a group of people whose work I was coordinating, I had a program level kanban-like board with cards for projects. We were working to get good at breaking our work into 4-6 week chunks, but weren’t there yet. Still, the board was useful to us. Then I also had a personal kanban for my own work, which I recalibrated at least once per week. And I also still had my daily to do lists.

      I tell you all of that not because I think that is necessarily the system that will work for you, but to illustrate how you can take the ideas that seem useful from kanban and apply them to your situation. There are other ways you could do that, too. I suspect you could even figure out a way to get a true task level kanban system working, but if that way is not apparent to you, there is no harm (in my opinion- kanban purists may disagree!) in starting with a level that does make sense to you, and then iteratively improving from there.

      4. This one will really horrify kanban purists, but if you are having trouble seeing the dependencies and how they cause your timelines to flow, I find that make a plan in MS Project or something similar helps me to see them. So, sometimes I’ll make a “plan” just to map out my dependencies and think about rough time estimates for how long various steps take, even if I’m not going to use that plan for ultimately managing the work.

      Does that help at all? If not, feel free to comment again with more questions, or if you’d rather keep the questions confidential, send me an email. I can’t guarantee super fast turnaround (unless you pay me!) but I will try to help.

      March 7, 2015
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      • Steve Rogers said:

        Thanks for your thoughtful feedback, Melanie. I think I just need to do the experiment to see what works for me. I just finished a book entitled “A Factory of One” by Daniel Markovitz that dealt with application of Lean methodologies to personal productivity. These concepts are new to me and I thought the book was excellent. Of relevance here, he advocated a project-level kanban that mapped to specific tasks, kind of your option #3, above. In this scenario, the kanban functions to track “big picture” progress and limit work in progress, while scheduled tasks are maintained in lists or on a calendar. I’ll implement something like this as see how it goes.

        March 16, 2015
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  3. […] that article, and then writing my response to a recent comment with an excellent question about kanban made me start thinking about my approach to project management methods. I’ve used a wide […]

    March 11, 2015
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  4. […] so I had to learn some new ones. Sometimes these were entirely new methods:  I first learned about Kanban when I was in the midst of levelling up to deal with running a bunch of interdependent projects. […]

    February 3, 2016
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