The idea of kanban was developed in the late 1940s by car manufacturers Toyota.
Line workers displayed coloured cards to notify their colleagues down the production line that they needed parts for assembly work.
‘Kanban’ is a Japanese word for a ‘card’ or a ‘visual signal’.
A kanban system is visual and underlies communication within teams so that departments can quickly identify the work that needs to be done and when.
It’s thought that the human brain can interpret visual information many times faster than text.
The system enables a worker to see the big picture and the constituent steps at one and the same time.
Kanban began to be applied to knowledge work in the 2000s, particularly in software development projects.
The principles are equally applicable to legal workflows, chambers’ administration, and personal organisation.
We all have our favourite ways of organising our day-to-day lives.
If the way that you organise things is working fine for you, then stick with it.
For some though, the working day can be a frustrating and chaotic experience.
Maybe we’re working on drafting an agreement or a statement that requires a full and undivided attention when the phone rings and we can’t delay speaking to the caller and then someone comes in the room for a chat that turns into a twenty minute discussion and we then have to pick up our train of thought 45 minutes later.
Sometimes this can be avoided; sometimes it can’t.
One of the benefits of a kanban type system is to limit the amount of work being processed so that the activity matches capacity.
In other words, I can only handle so much work and simultaneously maintain productivity.
When the lawyer or their team or department becomes overloaded with work, everything slows down and bottlenecks develop.
A visual system can quickly identify the problem.
Work can be distributed to other parts of the team or to other days of the week and today’s tasks can be focused on.
It also helps in managing expectations, particularly of clients.
(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)