Backwards Kanban

Kanban is a great product management technique, which (among other things) makes it easy for team members to determine what to work on next. Commonly, a task moves left-to-right on a Kanban board. However, there’s reasons to instead flip the board horizontally, and instead have tasks move right-to-left.

Note that in languages that read right-to-left this doesn’t really apply, and instead the “classic” left-to-right board has the advantages outlined here.

1 Advantages of a right-to-left Kanban board

1.1 Successes first

By moving tasks from right to left, the tasks that are done are at the very left side. Whenever team members look at the board, they tend to read it as if they were reading a text, which means instead of seeing a big pile of tasks that have to be finished, they instead see all the tasks that are already done, which can make them feel much more accomplished.

Similarly, the next thing they’ll see are the tasks that are close to completion and require the fewest steps to get shipped. They don’t even have to look at the rest of the board to figure out what to work on next, they can simply grab one of these tasks, get it as far to being completely done as possible, and have a potential feeling of success after actually finishing a task.

1.2 No temptation

By reading the To-Dos last, not only is there less likelihood of a feeling of dread because of a long todo list, but team members are also less likely to be tempted to take one of the tasks that hasn’t been started yet instead of finishing one of those that have already been started.

1.3 No frustrating: “Ugh, I’ll have to do this first…”

When moving tasks left-to-right, team members might tend to think in terms of “pushing” tasks until they’re done. This means once a task cannot be pushed further due to a full column, they have to switch context and get that other task further on the board. That’s not what they set out to do though, which might reduce motivation.

If instead the team uses a right-to-left Kanban board, team members might be more tempted to think in terms of “pulling” tasks until they’re done. This is fundamentally the same thing, except that naturally they come across the tasks that have already been started first, can more-or-less-quickly finish them, and then start something new without having any blockages. This doesn’t only cause less in-progress tasks (which is a good thing), but it also causes a morale increase instead of decrease, as tasks get done quicker and there’s no blockages.

1.4 Equivalent to time-aligned diagrams

On diagrams that show something over a period of time, “left” commonly means the past, while “right” usually means the future. On a reversed Kanban board, this is the same - tasks that have been worked on more are further along, and therefore further left. Tasks that are ahead, that will have to be worked on are on the right: “in the future”.

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