Using Kanban In Your SharePoint Environment

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One increasingly important topic for SharePoint is the need to get end users more engaged – not just uploading content, but using the platform to accomplish multiple work activities. The topic of end user engagement is pretty broad – it might include training, automation, governance, agile development, social and gamification, among other topics. My guidance to organizations has always been to understand the unique requirements and collaboration culture of your company before developing or deploying any solution, as what works for my team may not be the right fit for your team.

Having said that, I have long been a fan of the kanban list method for scrum / agile project management. I’m a “list guy” – I track my daily to do’s old school with a spiral bound notebook and a series of tasks and checkboxes. It’s just how I work, where I am comfortable. In a couple of my presentations, I would share a story of my time in operations at Microsoft where I installed a whiteboard in a major hallway and then instituted daily standing meetings where we would run through our burn list, and make our project team priorities very transparent to the entire organization. The model was very effective, even if it took a while for my team to see the value.

imageKanban, for all intents and purposes, is a visible workflow, and is commonly used for scheduling and planning in a Just in Time (JIT) production system. Back in my echoTechnology days, using out SharePoint 2007 platform and echo’s very cool Outlook PowerTool Plus product to move list items via quick drop down links, we used SharePoint lists to track our development backlog, burn list, and prioritize features and activities for each product release, moving tasks between lists so that you were always clear about what was being worked on, what was being pushed to the next build, and which items were new and not yet reviewed by the team. I came across a nice short overview by Alon Havivi that helps illustrate scrum using the kanban model.

In past blog posts, I’ve talked about my affection for the tool Trello, and how I use this free tool (they imagehave freemium and paid features) to coordinate content and activities with various vendors and my marketing team, and people within the community have reached out to ask why not in SharePoint? There are blog posts which outline how to create quick and dirty kanban lists using out-of-the-box features, and low-cost tools that have been out there for years. But my issue with these are not because SharePoint is lacking in features, but due to accessibility: the ease of inviting outside people to participate. It’s why I predominantly use Trello and Yammer for external collaboration these days, because all it takes is an email invite to pull people into my world.

While in Berlin last week, I was introduced to Michal Sobotkiewicz, co-founder of Microsoft Gold Partner ObjectConnect, and one of the creators of the best kanban tool for SharePoint that I’ve seen to date, called KanBo (they have also created a low-cost Surface-like table, which is fantastic). KanBo v1.1 is currently available for SharePoint 2010, with a cloud version (in German, initially) due out in November, and the SP2013 version due out in February 2014.

WP_20131017_005One of the key differentiators for KanBo is that the entire platform was built with responsive web design in mind. As you can see from my top image, the platform works across browsers, and on Win8 and WP8 with Android and iOS coming soon (the image above is from my demo with Michal, showcasing a Mac, a Surface, and a Windows Phone). An impressive part of his demo was how fluidly he moved between devices, making a change on his phone or using touch on the Surface to move a card between columns, and how these changes were automatically reflected on the other devices.

Clearly, there are big differences between KanBo and Trello – KanBo includes MSOffice integrations right from the browser, AD integration, web parts to help integration the platform with your SharePoint environment, full text search, and integration with workflow tools (Nintex, K2, etc). You can also track blocking factors within your workloads: for example, if a large number of tasks/assignments are piling up behind an individual, the system can identify your critical path and blocking factors, allowing you to discuss workloads with individuals, or possibly spread tasks across a team. And it does all of this is a very visible, drag-and-drop way. You can watch KanBo in action on YouTube, or contact the company for more details.

Using a kanban model is not for everyone – but for project-centric and workflow-centric organizations who are trying to make the most of their SharePoint platform, and who are struggling to make the elusive connections between features and business productivity, these tools and methods may be just what your organization needs. Kanban can help your teams visualize key workloads and activities, improve quality of communication, enable stronger mobile participation, and collect and reuse social knowledge – all in a format that is relatively easy to understand and consume.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.