Creation of any sort is almost always a chaotic process. A million thoughts collide to spin webs of life that meet at one central point - the centre of your creation itself. However, chaos is not always visible. There could be a million moving parts that threaten to usurp your mindspace - mental boxes that you carefully reserved and rationed for different parts of the process. Even so, there is no saying what may happen to the rest of your resources while you fixate on one issue, one moving part, one little cog that seems to be out of tune with the rest of your work.
Workplaces that are based on the creation of something anything, often face a wide range of issues. Wherever these problems lie, they tend to throw a spanner in the whole works. Creation stutters, totters, and then grinds to a near-halt. What is needed then, is a system that ensures seamlessness - in ideas, in creation, and in the process of delivering.
Kanban is a system devised for exactly this purpose. Taiichi Ohno, a Japanese engineer, originally came up with Kanban during his days at Toyota. It was initially designed as a simple way to track inventory at every stage of production but has since been applied to a large variety of contexts, from writing to manufacturing and way beyond.
At Umbara, we use Kanban systems to visualize our manufacturing and creative process. We work with a number of “moving parts” - an impersonal term for people, their capacities, and their skills. What impressed us most about this method of working was the ease and transparency of communication. This ease eventually led to smoothening of other parts of our creative process too. Due to its visual nature, it lays out information in plain sight, for all members of a team to view, access, and add to. Everything you’d want to know from someone in the team is already put up on the Kanban board - all you need to do is look!
Another great advantage of the Kanban system - and the reason it was created - is that it is the perfect system to manage inventory. In long-drawn production processes that have too many small steps and details, it can often get tricky to understand the scale of creation. Here’s where Kanban steps in - each block on a Kanban board stands for one step of the process. The more blocks you have vertically, the more number of steps in the larger process. The three standard columns (more can always be added) on a Kanban board are - ‘To Do’, Work In Progress (WIP)’, and ‘Done’. These seemingly simple categories actually go a long, long way in clearing out any backlogs, miscommunication, or even inventory bottlenecks in a production or manufacturing process.
Our team at Umbara needs our tailors and seamstresses to become generalists or all-round technicians. They need to familiarize themselves with fit, patterns, sewing techniques, fabric specs and so on - all data points which can be comfortably laid out on a board for everyone. Considering the many details in the Umbara production process, our team uses Kanban methods for two purposes - one is to lay out the entire process from end to end, and two, to keep (open) tabs on the flow of inventory and consequent demands for more production. The Umbara mindspace settles down very fluidly with such a system of organization and thinking.
Have some big projects coming up, or simply want to take stock of your life? Try setting up a Kanban board for yourself. Here’s a couple of websites that let you work with boards: