Back in 2007, I started researching the role of UX designers working in an agile context, and while observing a team, I came across an interesting collaboration and communication tool that I have named the 'Kanban-ka' board. It looks like a kanban board, but is about discussing open issues and questions. '-ka' is Japanese and used to indicate a question - say a normal sentence, and add 'ka'. (I love the simplicity of Japanese grammar!) Hence the name.
The team was an in-house team, running formal scrum, quite large, sitting in an open-plan office in a very large organisation. The Kanban-ka board was born out of their need for a tool that faciliated discussions about design decisions of any kind, about product vision disagreements, about the big and the small things. It helped them to establish a team vision and consolidated opinion on important issues, which was also helpful for dealing with stakeholders.
Here is how it works:
- On the left, unanswered questions are written down on questions sheets (large post-it notes or sticky index cards work for this).
- In the middle are the questions that are 'in discussion'. Answers and comments are added on post-it notes.
- The right column holds questions that have been answered. Moving from 'in discussion' to 'answered' often involves reviewing the discussion so far with the team, in an (ad-hoc) stand-up or retrospective or planning meeting, whenever everybody was present. The questions and answers remain on the board; when someone who isn't from the team walks by and has a question, any team member can answer, explain the team's decision-making process, and point to the arguments from other team members.
One of the backend developers explained their board as follows:
„There is no other place to discuss these issues. It helps to get the team on the same page, to clarify and discuss things. Some of us are more user- focused, some just want to produce a good product, from a technical point of view, for whatever users come along. It shows where what team members think is important clashes, so it facilitates discussion. And it helps to find out who to talk to about things.“ – Backend Developer
The interaction designer on the team used the board to communicate the UX vision and advocate end user needs, especially when questions seemed to be his responsibility. He appreciated the question board as a useful communication tool:
„Research insights are shared. The board helps to clarify responsibility and ownership.“ – IxD
By documenting discussions and decisions, the Kanban-ka board helps to reduce recurring debates about the same topics and can also be used to facilitate conversations with stakeholders. Most importantly, it triggers conversations about perspectives and viewpoints that otherwise could remain implicit. Therefore, the board could bring a team closer together and help to establish a mutual understanding, a team vision.
I love seeing tools that teams come up with themselves to improve their collaboration. The Kanban-ka board is useful for certain teams in certain contexts; I hope it inspires you to consider your team's needs and how you could improve your collaboration. If you pick the board idea up, use it, adapt it, please let me know! If you have created your own tools, please share!