Has busy turned into forgetful? Even for the most organized people, tracking changes and keeping up with a project’s status can become mind-boggling. Learn about project organization with visual task management.

To-do lists make it hard to see what’s going on. This is especially true if:

  • Items on your to-do list are more like projects and less like individual tasks.
  • You manage other people’s work.
  • Changing priorities cause you to shift your focus often.

How to Stop Juggling Too Many Tasks

5 tips to help stop the chaotic ways of working

Read the whitepaper • How to Stop Juggling Too Many Tasks

Kanban 101: Supercharge your team’s productivity

By encouraging teams to identify, prioritize, and intentionally complete work items one at a time, Kanban can help combat the damaging effects of multitasking in a hyper-stimulated world.

View the eBook • Kanban 101

Visual Task Management

Task management on Lean visual management boards is a great technique for managing work. Instead of keeping messy to-do lists or spending precious time tracking information in your inbox, file folders and spreadsheets, track your work using a visual task management tool such as a task board, project board or Kanban / Lean visual management board. Some people even use a plain old whiteboard and sticky notes to create a manual Kanban board. Whether your to-dos involve large projects or small tasks, using Lean visual management boards is the best way to stay focused and get work done effectively.

There are many benefits of visual management:

  • Save time by simplifying the complex – Visual management helps people understand complex information at a glance, like what work items should be prioritized and who should be working on them.
  • Reduce waste by communicating effectively – Take the guesswork out of teamwork by having a shared, common view of all work being done across the team.
  • Overcome impediments to flow – See where work has slowed or stopped by creating a Lean visual management board that enables you to see bottlenecks and blockers.
  • Collaborate and improve – Instead of pushing work blindly into team members’ queues, you can move work through our team process with a better understanding of capacity. This enables teams to collaborate in a healthier, more productive way.

Lean Visual Management

Imagine how much time you normally spend planning your work before you actually do it. “Getting stuff done” is more than actually doing the work. First, you must think about what you need to do next, how to proceed, how to prioritize your work and how to maximize the impact work you are doing – without increasing the scope of the project. You also have to think through which resources or skillsets will be required in order to complete the work, so that you don’t blindside your team members.

Often, we fall into the trap of suboptimizing the whole while trying to optimize our piece of the puzzle. The time and effort we spend working in silos is usually better spent helping the team accomplish its shared goals, but without a way to see what everyone else is working on, this can be difficult, especially on larger teams.

Lean visual management boards make it easier to identify which work items do not directly help the team reach its goals. Once identified, less relevant work items can be discussed in a team setting to determine why they were requested and whether they should take priority over prioritized work. Reviewing the board regularly for these types of work items can help a team refine its process, so that only high-priority work makes it onto the team board.

Lean visual management makes prioritization of the work much easier because you can see it in a single, shared view.

It also provides a way for teams to collaborate and look for opportunities to combine efforts to maximize the impact of any single piece of work.

In other words, teams can more easily find ways to maximize the work for the team rather than for the individual. Your team can see what work items are coming up next and easily understand how those work items tie back to the larger objectives of the team.

Lean visual management boards also enable you to understand and manage capacity at the individual level. It’s easy to get bogged down by requests with varying degrees of priority.

Often, our impulse is to tackle the smallest or most pressing items first, continuously setting aside or delaying the bigger projects that add the most value to your organization. Lean visual management boards enable you to see what you’re assigned to, and make logical decisions on how to spend your time based on what items would bring the most value to the organization.

Beyond Task Management

Lean visual management goes beyond task management. It’s a work management technique that helps you save time while evolving your team to work more effectively as a unit. Project managers find themselves spending less time chasing information when they manage work visually, and team members find it to be a more pleasant way to work because there is less ambiguity in what they are being asked to do.

Team collaboration using lean visual management

Collaboration is the cornerstone of so many great ideas, yet true collaboration is still so often underutilized in team settings. The busy schedules of people working on their “own” projects sometimes prevents teams from taking the time to get together and brainstorm or simply take a quick look at the work someone else is doing to provide constructive feedback.

Plus, it is difficult to collaborate with team members who work remotely, or from different locations. Because teams now put more of an emphasis on collaboration for creative problem solving and ideation, collaboration and visual management software has become more popular.

The most effective way to collaborate is to use a visual collaboration tool. Some tools are similar to social networks or project hubs in that they allow everyone from a company or group to log in and share ideas as they relate to a certain topic, while other tools are manual (imagine a Kanban board, project board or task board). What tool to use for visual management will depend on the specific needs of the team.

Visual Task Management Tools

There are several types of visual management tools, including:

  • Whiteboards / Task Boards / Sticky Notes
  • Online Project Management Software
  • Kanban Boards (online or manual)

The most popular tool for visual management is the basic whiteboard. For decades, teams have gathered around it to conduct daily status meetings and to provide a snapshot of work-in-progress to senior managers or company leaders. A whiteboard can be used as a task board, project board or Kanban board, depending on how the team wants to use it.

Kanban software and project management software is a good option for distributed teams and / or teams managing more complex projects that involve a variety of job roles and responsibilities. Similar to a whiteboard, online visual task management software is useful for teams that need a better way to communicate, collaborate and prioritize their work.

Lean visual management board examples

A great way to get started using Lean visual management boards is to look at Lean visual management board examples from other teams like yours. As a team, analyze several different Lean visual management examples to get a sense of how teams set their boards up to mirror their workflow, and which elements of those boards you can try when creating your own board.

There are many valuable elements you can pull from a Lean visual management example. Pay attention to how lanes are set up:

  • How does the team define each step in its process?
  • Does the team use horizontal swimlanes to break the process down into multiple value streams, or rely on one larger, more generalized value stream?
  • Which approach might work best for your team?

Also, look at how the team uses special identifiers such as custom icons, card types (designated by color), dates, task cards, etc. to visualize specific information about each piece of work. How do teams use card types to differentiate between different types of work items? Do they organize by priority, skill sets required, or some other criteria?

You can also use Lean visual management board examples to learn more about how other teams implement Lean and Kanban tools, like WIP limits, to help them manage their workflow more effectively. For each Lean visual management board example you analyze, figure out whether the board has WIP limits in place, and how WIP limits are implemented across the team.

Also, see if the team has process policies built into their Lean visual management board. Process policies can be helpful reminders for teams, especially when they are first getting started, about how to use the board in the way the team agreed to use it. Process policies can define, for example:

  • When to pull work onto the Lean visual management board
  • How to use card comments and attachments to relay important project information
  • How to submit a new request on another team

Take note of which Lean visual management examples you analyze and which elements you’d like to try with your team. Remember that you don’t have to implement everything at once; in fact, you’d be better served to implement one new element to your board at a time. As you continue to grow in your practice of Lean, revisit your favorite Lean visual management examples to see what other tools or practices you might be able to add as your team matures.

Try an Online Lean Visual Management Tool

All types of visual management tools help teams see their work in progress. Both manual whiteboards and online task boards serve as a gathering place for team members to check in throughout the day and check project status. The benefit of using an online visual management tool is that updates can be viewed from anywhere in the world where there is an Internet connection.