30 March 2020
This is a guest post by Laura Parsons, Digitisation Workflow Administrator for the British Library's Qatar Foundation Partnership, on Twitter as @laurakpar
It takes unexpected and extreme world events, such as a pandemic and forced lock down, to make you realise the value of things and routines you previously took for granted. In the Workflow Administration team of the British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership Project, one of our everyday, normal, taken-for-granted activities is our daily stand-up meeting at our Kanban board, complete with post-it notes, magnets and coloured pens. We thought we would explain our stand-up and Kanban process, how it helps us and how it has changed, and what we are doing now.
Who are we?
The Workflow team is responsible for helping manage items through all the stages of the digitisation project workflow. It is a diverse role where we use problem solving, innovation and cross-team communication. Tasks range from administering our Microsoft SharePoint database that tracks the items we are digitising, to assisting the various teams throughout the workflow with technical questions and issues, and working to create the end product that is uploaded to the Qatar Digital Library. To help us complete these tasks and to ensure we juggle the variety of work, we manage our individual and team work using post-it notes on our Kanban board and by participating in a stand-up meeting.
At 9.45am everyday, on a normal pre-COVID-19 day, the Workflow team gathers around our Kanban board. This time is ingrained into our morning routine and without it the day does not seem to begin properly. By having this brief but regular catch-up with our team we get our brains thinking, focus on priorities, seek help, and share both achievements and frustrations.
Directed by the Board Leader, the responsibility for which rotates through the team each week, we take it in turns to report on three things: what we did yesterday, what we’re going to do today, and any issues we are having that are blocking our work. This often leads to a discussion about how the team could help, suggestions for who to ask or ideas for what we could try.
The whole stand-up process has rules and expectations, all carefully documented, and we are quick to tell someone (good naturedly) if they are not following the rules! Our rules govern things like colour coding of post-it notes and magnets, maximum number of tasks in your column (which is not always adhered to), and order of priority for tasks.
By the very nature of a stand-up meeting, it is kept short, sometimes less than five minutes for all seven of us to have our turn. This also helps any of us who do not like talking in front of a group; it’s fast, relaxed and supportive. If further help or discussion is needed, we can ask for some “Ticket Talk” later, where we talk with a colleague about our tickets.
We are very proud of our Kanban board. It is the product of many hours of team-work, creativity and striving to work more effectively, efficiently and collaboratively. It has a column for each person with the tasks that they are allocated to them. When we need more work, we pick up a task from the “New” column and then it stays in our column until we have completed the task, when it is finished it is moved to the “Complete” column so we can celebrate how productive we have been! Whilst we record and complete our work on an online system, we find that this tactile process helps us manage our workload and the workflow, as well as simply giving us visual feedback and a valuable sense of achievement.
Our board has developed over time with monthly “Retrospective” meetings used to brainstorm ideas for how we could improve our stand-up practice and our Kanban Board. In these meetings we each put forward suggestions for what we think we should start, stop and continue. This has been useful to raise new ideas and ensure that we all have a say in how we work. By regularly examining how we work, and suggesting and trying new things, we are always aiming to work more efficiently and effectively. In recent months we have: implemented the weekly rotating role of “Board Leader”, personalised name headers, invited visitors from other teams, included our Imaging Team as a regular stand-up participant, introduced magnets for regular tasks, started a weekly “What I learnt this week” section, and updated rules such as writing the days you are away this week under your name.
Without stand-up and Kanban
As we have begun working from home, we now have to become used to a new routine, or the lack of our previous one. We no longer have our physical Kanban board but we can still communicate daily with each other and our new team Slack channel has allowed regular chat. To help with this uncertain and isolated period, we are trialing our daily “stand-up” using emojis, where we communicate our thoughts and feelings for the day using three emojis (with a sentence explanation, only if you want to). While we learn new ways of working, at least this will remind us of our useful stand-up meetings and our much-loved Kanban board.