Early Discovery of Task Management.
The Origins of Kanban
By definition, a startup is a company that’s still trying to figure out its business model. There is a vision, often a great idea, but only a very vague understanding of how to monetize it. The focus on individual tasks and reacting to feedback is natural when you’re constantly testing and discarding hypotheses.
Furthermore, startups also tend to rely on tightly-knit cross-functional teams. So it makes sense to work with individual tasks and then let your team handle them as they see fit. You just give your team a Kanban board and let them move tasks from to-do, to doing, and then to done.
Dealing with Complexity.
Step One: Checklists
As a business matures, complexities inevitably set in. The sheer number of tasks also tends to grow exponentially. A Kanban board looks nice and neat when you have a dozen tasks, but it can look really apocalyptic with a hundred tasks on it.
The natural way to deal with such chaos is to break the multitude of tasks into chunks and organize each chunk as a checklist. Instead of a hundred tasks, you’re now back to a couple of dozen, each one of them now consisting of a bunch of subtasks arranged into a checklist. It is an improvement. But with head-count growth, your teams tend to become more specialized and within each team generalists give way to specialists.
The next three organizational challenges you need to tackle are:
- What to do when different specialist teams have to work on different items in the same checklist?
- What to do when work on one item in a checklist can only begin after work on another item has been completed?
- How to make sure your team members are not cherry-picking assignments and give enough attention to all tasks.
From Checklists to Workflows
Simple checklists start failing at this point. They naturally evolve into business processes, standard operating procedures, or workflows. A business process is a repeatable sequence of tasks that reliably produces the same result if followed as prescribed. Different tasks can be accomplished in a business process by different people or teams, with some products being passed on from one stage to the next like a workpiece on an assembly line.
A mature business is like a well-designed and well-oiled machine that can run itself. A great idea can bring your startup an early-stage seed investment. However, when it comes time to raise more institutional capital, prospective investors want to see a “going concern”. And a going concern is just another word for a set of repeatable business processes that can reliably produce the same results and keep the business running even if the founders decide to retire.
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Building solid business processes requires lots of time and effort. Pneumatic’s mission is to help your business mature painlessly. It enables you to organically evolve your Kanban board into a transparent and predictable business process.
Experiment and Evolve
Pneumatic emphasizes ease of use and encourages continuous improvement. You can start by creating a simple one-off task workflow and then organically add steps to it as needed. All workflow templates can be edited, even if they have multiple running workflow instances.
Whenever a change is made to a template, it gets propagated automatically to all of its running instances, accurately solving all the possible conflicts. This deliberate design enables Pneumatic users to evolve their business processes incrementally through empirical trial and error. No need for regular all-hands on deck update meetings. No need for any downtime to update procedures. Your team is working with the most up-to-date version of your business processes at all times.
Tasks in the Streets, Workflows in the Sheets
In the olden days, assembly lines were the luxury only big industrial companies had access to. Things have changed: now there is growing appreciation that the sound ole “pin-factory” productivity-boosting principles can work wonders for modern hip companies brought up on Kanban. When push comes to shove, you want to keep shipping your product to customers even as you work tirelessly to improve it continuously.
It’s become de-rigueur to ridicule the sluggish bureaucracies of the giant corporate behemoths. Yet, numerous studies have shown that they somehow manage to make more money than startups and more profit per employee to boot. They must be doing something right. And what they have that so many startups don’t is a business process management culture.
Whatever inefficiencies they might have in their corporate organizational structures are more than compensated for by advanced management practices and solid business processes that often let them run pretty much on autopilot and deliver consistent results. Management and organization do matter. It was Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations who first reasoned that five guys each making a pin from start to finish could never turn out as many pins as five guys arranged in an assembly line, each performing a straightforward operation on the workpiece in a well-organized process that turns it into a pin.
Specialization and division of labor beat jack-of-all-trades craftsmanship every time. The only way startups could compete with big corporations in the harsh dog-eat-dog modern market was by having everyone working in the same room in constant communication with each other.
Covid ended all that - we’re all now mainly working remotely. That means we need business processes to cross the isolated organizational silos of our own home offices. We need a work environment that informs a team member in Italy that their colleague in Japan has finished their part of the process and it’s time to take up the baton. Pneumatic does just that: you build your processes, you run them, you then see how your team is performing and adjust your operations accordingly
It presents tasks to your team in the form of a familiar backlog. Users see a list of tasks assigned according to their roles. When they complete a task, it disappears from their backlog. However, in Pneumatic, all tasks are organized into sequences. This means your COO can track progress in terms of workflows, while your team can share and pass information within workflows to maintain process continuity.
Completely separate specialist teams can work on the same workflow and handoff requirements and intermediary results from stage to stage with zero drama as all the relevant information is always shared and made easily accessible within the workflow.
The Best of All Possible Worlds
Pneumatic is designed to support the continuous improvement of your business. In this way, Pneumatic cashes in on the strengths of both task management and the more traditional BPM approach. It keeps it loose and agile at the level of team members assigned specific tasks while imposing a clear structure at the level of operations management and ensuring repeatability and effectiveness of business processes.
Evolve business processes in Pneumatic to turn your business into a going concern that reliably creates customer value and delivers revenue to you and your stakeholders.