Have you ever heard of Kanban? Well if not, right now can be your most recent “ah ha!” moment because kanban is an incredibly simple and wonderful way to organize your work time. Kanban was originally developed by Toyota back in the 1950s as a way to maximize productivity and encourage the development of new ideas and concepts quickly. A true challenge in the car industry and a true challenge in own own handmade business.
I first heard of kanban from a sewing friend of mine, Monica Donahue of LittlePigeonCrafts.etsy.com. Monica’s business has grown really fast (no wonder since her products are super stylish and beautiful!) and after her 2013 holiday season, I asked her how things went. She said she was grateful for all her orders but felt like she had just been through an exhausting storm and barely made it through to January! She mentioned she was going to try a kanban board to get more organized and prepared for 2014 . Of course, I wanted to know more about kanban boards and after Monica gave me a simple explanation, I did some of my own research.
All that is needed to make your own kanban board is a white board, a pencil and some sticky notes. Of course, being a creative person, you may want to makes yours pretty! But make sure you also make it changeable. You basically just draw 3 columns that are titled to do (or ideas), Work in Progress (WIP) and Completed. When you have a task that needs to be completed, you write it on a sticky note and place it in the TO DO column. After you have begun, move the sticky note to the WIP column, finally when you have finished the task, move the sticky note to the Completed column. So easy, right?? Of course, kanban can be much more complicated and huge businesses (like Toyota!) use it to create new technology, but it also works great for creative people like us working on a small scale.
My friend Monica is a production sewer who develops new products and sews them herself in her home studio. Although I only production sew a little around the holidays, I wanted to try kanban for myself as a pattern designer and creative business owner. The basic concepts of kanban are to encourage new ideas, reduce works in progress (WIPs) and help you achieve the completion of your projects. Easy right???
The real genius of kanban for us handmade business owners is to really work on those pesky WIPs that muddle up our time and clog up our creative spaces (physically and mentally!). WIPs are a business bottleneck that plague Toyota and Microsoft as much as it plagues someone trying to come up with a new sewing pattern. The idea is that visually seeing all those WIPs on your board will help you to move them through to completion and make your precious work time more productive.
My board is divided into the 3 columns discussed above but also into 3 additional sections to make my board look like a grid. This grid helps to remind me that not only do I need to design (favorite thing!), but also sew(a close second!) and work on the marketing(not my favorite but VERY necessary) of my handmade business.
So, will you try kanban? I love the visual organization of my board and it gets me focused in a way that I never had before. The concept is so simple but truly helpful. Want to learn more about kanban? I have only scratched the surface here so there is a lot more to discover. Here are some links so you can learn more about the concepts and how to apply it to your life and work…
Virginia Lindsay — Gingercake Patterns and Design
Virginia Lindsay designs sewing patterns for Gingercake Patterns and Design. She loves the to sew practical, fun, and stylish things! Several of her patterns have been published by Simplcity and she has also written 2 books. Sewing to Sell ( to be released in Nov 2014 ) and Fabric Stash Cuties: Pretty Little Birds (to be released January 2015).