Chapter 3: Boost Team Productivity With the Right Project Management System

Simply put, you cannot have an efficient and productive team without a project management system.

Why You Need a Project Management System

A project management system, or platform, offers a comprehensive toolset to help manage your team, whether they’re located remotely or locally. The beauty of these systems for remote teams is that they allow for much stronger communication and time management between members.

A project management system is a remote or virtual office for your team. It’s the glue that holds the entire team together. It tells everyone what their projects and tasks are. It clearly outlines deadlines and due dates. It allows for communication between team members and cross-talk between individual groups. More importantly, it allows you, or your managers, to oversee the entire operation from something of a bird’s-eye view.

How Do They Boost Productivity?

There are many ways in which project management systems — like Kanbanize — can boost productivity. Actual support will depend on the platform you choose and the features it offers, but, for the most part, they are relatively similar:

  • They help you understand your resource capability through planning and visualization tools.
  • They assist you with prioritizing projects and tasks, as well as assigning them to individual team members.
  • Project planning, brainstorming and collaboration are more organized and consistent.
  • They help you minimize the risk associated with virtual teams.
  • They allow you to see in real-time the current progress of a project or task.
  • You can measure a variety of stats like productivity, progress, utilization (of tools and members) and much more.
  • They help you improve customer and problem response times.

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How Do They Make Management Easier?

Project management systems simplify the micromanagement process and consolidate everything you need into one convenient toolset. Instead of trying to organize and establish all the necessary tools and platforms necessary to keep a remote team operational on your own, you can turn to an existing portal.

If you want your remote team to have a chance at success, you’ll need to utilize a project management system. Doing it on your own is possible, yes, but it’s not recommended.

Why Remote Employees Need Structure, and How to Give It

Just like co-located teams, remote teams need structure. They need to understand what hours you work, or expect them to work. They need to know what core responsibilities and duties they have. Perhaps most importantly, they need a clear and visible deadline for all tasks and projects.

These are all things that you can work to establish together as a team. Factor in what your clients want out of your services, obviously, but ultimately, the structure doesn’t have to come from just you. That said, it’s important you have structure — period.

A lot of this structure and organization will come from the tools and equipment you use to get the work done. A project management system, for instance, will help you manage a great deal of structure that’s necessary for a team to operate.

What Remote Project Management Tools Exist?

Some of the most popular tools include:

  • Assembla
  • ActiveCollab
  • Asana
  • Basecamp
  • Celoxis
  • Confluence
  • Kapost
  • Teambox
  • Time Doctor
  • Workgroups
  • Flow

Of course, this list is by no means comprehensive, so there are many tools that have not been mentioned.

What’s the Difference Between These Tools?

The biggest difference between each tool is what features they have to offer and how they are structured. As you may already know, there are several project management methods that are used today, including Kanban, Agile, Scrum, Lean, GTD and Sprint.
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The tool you choose will be tailored for one of those methods and, individually, may offer exclusive features that other tools do not.

What to Look for in a Project Management System

There are several questions you must ask before you can make any decisions. Answering these questions will not only tell you what kind of software is good for you (SaaS or self-hosted) but also the method you should be using.

  • What size projects will your team be working on? Are these grand-scale projects or smaller efforts?
  • How many people will be necessary to complete a project? How big is your team?
  • Do you need the system to be mobile-friendly for those on-the-go?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want a SaaS (web-based) solution or custom self-hosted one? The latter will require its own development team.
  • What do you need the software to do, and what data must be tracked? Do you need email and IM support? Will you be sending files and attachments? Do you need integrated meeting and communication tools? Do you need to track productivity and invested time through this system?

How to Use Kanban for Project Management

The issue with remote work — and the responsibilities that come along with it — is that you cannot apply 100% of your energy and attention to a single task at a time. If you could, things would be a whole lot easier.

Alas, you need to divide your attention and the attention of your team appropriately. This is where Kanban comes into play. Kanban is one of the most flexible and simplest project management tools available.

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Why? Because one solution fits nearly every type of situation and can be scaled accordingly. That solution is Kanban.

Kanban is a relatively new technique that can be used to manage projects and tasks in a more efficient manner. The best way to put it is that both efficiency and productivity take center stage. This is because Kanban is designed to eliminate bottlenecks and push work through a production line without hindrance.

With traditional production and development methods, you have what’s called the pipeline. With a pipeline, tasks and feature requests are essentially funneled through this pipe to create software or products, which emerge from the other end. It boils everything down to a simple, three-step process: (1) Analyze requirements and come up with a plan, (2) develop the product or service and (3) test it and release.

The problem with this more traditional method — or pipeline, if you will — is that, as bottlenecks appear, they just stack upon one another and cause more problems. All this does is delay your end production goals indefinitely until those bottlenecks can be resolved.

In addition, this process encourages overproduction, which creates a natural bottleneck and balloons costs. In Kanban, you take your entire project and adapt it visually so that you can see everything happening in real-time.

It involves taking a big planning board — or a small one — and separating it into columns. Each of the columns represents a stage in your development process. Then, you use sticky notes or index cards to represent individual tasks that need to be completed. These smaller tasks are part of the bigger picture. Nothing is considered finished until all of these tasks have progressed accordingly.

At its core, Kanban limits the amount of work-in-progress (WIP) to help reveal bottlenecks much sooner and alleviate the issues that are causing them. Here is why you can easily use Kanban for project management and it will make your work processes much efficient.

Which Tool Is the Best for Most Teams?

Without repeating all the particulars, Kanban is one of the best project management tools because it’s so versatile. It can be adapted and customized to meet nearly any situation or project.

Kanban vs. Agile

When deciding to go Agile, there are two methods you can choose from: Scrum and Kanban. Most people classify the methods as Kanban vs. Agile, but the correct matchup is Kanban vs. Scrum.

Kanban and Scrum are frameworks and methods within the Agile methodology. The two processes are both responses to the rigidness of the long-standing waterfall methodology. Scrum and Kanban differ when you review the focus of workflow: the states of a project or work in progress limits (Kanban) versus timing within a sprint and what work needs to move to a future iteration (Scrum).

Kanban vs. Scrum

The first thing to note about Kanban is that it can scale with your organization or team. This also makes it ideal for companies that are constantly growing and evolving over time — which is likely what your team will end up doing.

Both Scrum and Kanban are structured to emphasize efficiency and productivity, but Scrum lends itself better to new organizations, or those that need a serious fundamental shift. Kanban, on the other hand, can be easily implemented anywhere — even in situations where a company already has a working process. Of course, this also means Kanban is much more flexible and can be tailored to meet the needs of a company or team.

A remote team is constantly evolving, and the success of either the Scrum or Kanban method depends on the project. If you use a physical Kanban board, you might need to consider how to translate it into a digital environment for your remote team. The consideration must be taken with Scrum.

Scrum Board vs. Kanban Board

When it comes to matching up Scrum boards vs. Kanban boards, you’ll soon learn they are two separate strategies, even if they are derived from similar methodologies.

Scrum boards are designed to allow teams to plan out projects and tasks in finer detail, whereas Kanban allows team members to work without a core, structured plan. In fact, Kanban doesn’t have a distinct planning stage — though this doesn’t mean planning is forgotten completely.

On a Scrum board, you create an initial list of items to complete, which essentially becomes the backlog. Then, as you do the work, you create separate sprints and move each issue from the backlog to the sprints section. In layman’s terms, the backlog is the planning stage and the sprint is the operational (or “working”) stage.

Kanban uses the same column-based board structure, but instead of organizing a small portion of the projects and moving them from planning to sprint, you push them through each stage in the production process individually. In Kanban, this is called mapping your workflow. Within the columns, you can also create swim lanes — this allows other teams to share columns, or parallel processes while keeping their specific team processes intact.

Kanban lends itself to increased speed, productivity, and ease-of-use. Scrum is much more complex to set up, but it presents great organizational and viewing support.

Myths About Kanban for Software Development

As outlined by Kanbanize on our company blog and Kanban in Software Development e-book, there are a few myths floating around about Kanban when it comes to software development.

The first myth we’ll address is that there’s no planning or estimation stage in Kanban. This is simply not true, but it’s at least partially understandable.

Kanban assumes that the planning and estimate stages are a waste in the process because they don’t bring direct value to the project or production line. However, Kanban does still leave room for some necessary waste, which can be used to plan. Planning is necessary, even for teams that rely on the Kanban method — it’s just important to understand that you can’t be excessive about it.

The next myth is that Kanban is structured so that it only benefits support teams. This is not true because Kanban doesn’t rely on a specific order when it comes to workflow. You can adapt and scale the system to meet your needs, no matter what they are.

A final myth claims that you should start with Scrum and then move to Kanban later. They are two extremely different methods — even if they are both agile — and they each have their own structure.
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Don’t make this mistake. Instead, choose one of the methods and then do your best to bring your team onboard with the principles incorporated in its practice.

Kanban vs. Lean

Since Kanban is an agile process, the correct matchup here is Agile vs. Lean, as opposed to Kanban vs. Lean. Just keep in mind both Agile and Lean are essentially the same approach with only slight variances.

The Lean method is born from a system called “lean manufacturing,” which calls for an emphasis on quality, speed and, most importantly, customer alignment. To break it down to the absolute basics, Lean is so named because it asks you to eliminate any and all processes or elements that are not adding direct value at that particular moment in time.

In a way, Lean is the foundation upon which Agile was built, so you’ll see a lot of overlapping principles and ideas between the two.

However, Agile is more about the interactions, tools, and reactions a team has, as opposed to the trimming of actual processes. It values individuals and interactions over tools, working software over documentation, collaboration over negotiations and a strategy for responding to changes and issues.

For all intents and purposes, Lean is the foundation and Agile is the structure on top of that foundation. Because of that, there’s no way to really pit the two against each other.

For remote teams, Agile is the better focus because it employs principles of Lean in its execution.

Kanban vs. GTD

GTD, or “getting things done,” is a methodology that breaks production up into five stages. Similar to Kanban, it uses a space called the workflow to guide processes. Though it’s possible to match up Kanban vs. GTD, again, there’s really no need. They are similar enough in many ways, and you can mix and match the two to meet your company’s needs.

Rather than covering the definition of GTD, which you can get elsewhere, we’re just going to outline what makes the methodology stand out from Kanban as a method and the Lean and Agile methodologies.

For starters, GTD does not impose caps or restrictions on backlog size. Because of this, you can spend a much longer time planning — and organizing — before kick-starting a new project or task. This does not mean that a GTD workflow is always going to have more actions and planning for those actions — it just means that, unlike Kanban, you are free to do as you wish at this point in the game.

GTD is also about having a defined default process that you can build on. And it rewards the prioritization of time, energy and context.

 

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