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How to visualize your ministry workflows and to-do list

 

By Dan Wunderlich

If you’re a visually oriented person, finding a task or project management app can be difficult. A straight to‑do list sometimes doesn’t provide enough of the cues or organization that fit your style of thinking.

If you can relate with this struggle, the Kanban method may be for you. Developed by Toyota over 60 years ago for use in their factories, it has become a popular tool for team and personal productivity as well.

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Kanban basics

The Kanban process consists of three segments:

  • board
  • lists or stacks
  • cards

The board encompasses a project or area of responsibility. The lists/stacks represent categories or stages in your process. The cards represent items within the project.

The original and simplest form uses three columns: to do, doing and done. Each card represents a task, or group of tasks, to be completed.

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At the beginning of a project, each step or task starts in the “to do” column and progresses to the “doing” column as you begin to work on it. When complete, the step or task moves to the “done” column. A quick glance at your board will show you how far along you are in the project, which is critical to visual processors.

One of the key principles of Kanban is limiting your “doing” or “work-in-progress” category. The more you multitask, the more distracted you are as your attention and energy are divided. This can lead to frustration, burn out, forgetting key information and poor quality work.

The visual nature of Kanban allows you to see at a glance if you’re attempting to work on too many things at once. It can also help you identify bottlenecks in your personal or team productivity, as problematic tasks or projects will remain in the “doing” column for too long.

The Kanban method can be customized for uses beyond task management, as the lists/stacks can represent steps in any process.

For example, you can use Kanban to plan games for your youth group. Your stacks could be: want to play, have the supplies, playing and played.

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Each card represents a game. You place them within the first two columns based on whether you have everything you need to play the game. The first column helps you prepare your shopping list, the second column shows you the available options, the third column tells you or your team what to set up and the final column shows you what you have played recently so as not to repeat a game too soon.

You can create a simple Kanban board with sticky notes and columns on a whiteboard, sheet of paper or the wall. This setup can amplify Kanban’s visual nature as it adds the physical act of moving the sticky notes from stack to stack.

There are also many online Kanban board options. An obvious benefit of a digital board is the ability for you and/or your team to access it (often from an app) at anytime from anywhere. Digital Kanban boards add versatility to the card functions. Instead of simply naming an item or task, many apps and services allow cards to hold information like checklists, images and even comment streams for discussion.

Ministry use‑cases

Kanban can be used to track virtually anything with the basic “to do, doing, done” structure. For example, you can use Kanban to track worship planning and preparation.

You could have a Kanban board for each weekend, and each would have cards for things like the sermon, selecting music, prayers and liturgy, slides, the bulletin and communion elements. You would move the cards across the columns as each step is in process and then completed.

The visual nature of Kanban allows it to really excel when you’re organizing and tracking information through a flow of steps. Instead of using the three traditional lists or stacks, you can customize the categories for each project.

The Rev. Chad Brooks, a United Methodist church planter and host of the Productive Pastor Podcast, uses the Kanban method to track assimilation from first visit through membership. His columns are: first‑time guest, second‑time guest, regular (but not serving), regular (serving) and member. Within each column are cards for individuals or families. The cards are moved from stack to stack as the people get more involved in the church.

One way to enhance the discipleship process at your church is to unify themes and topics across various ministries.

For example, you might introduce a topic in a sermon. You can then highlight points from the sermon on social media, prepare discussion questions to dig deeper in small groups and cover related themes or questions in blog posts or newsletter articles. You can use an editorial calendar to plan ahead, and the Kanban method works well for tracking items on your editorial calendar.

Free Kanban tools

Many productivity and project management apps include Kanban as an option for organizing or visualizing your projects. The following apps all include Kanban functionality within the free level of their services.

  • Trello is essentially the Kanban method in digital form with the board, stack and card layout as the default view. Cards can contain text, checklists, images, links and more. And if you’re using Trello to collaborate with a team, it can track each team member's activity.

    Trello dashboard
     
  • Airtable bridges the gap between a spreadsheet and a database. It has all of the organizational structure and functions of a spreadsheet with the added benefits of linked records and alternative views — including Kanban. If you’re comfortable with spreadsheets, or the information you’re organizing would also work well as a spreadsheet, Airtable is a great tool to explore.

    Airtable dashboard
     
  • Asana is a project management app to help groups collaborate. It includes Kanban boards as a tool for organizing your tasks. If you’re looking to implement Kanban within a team of staff or volunteers, Asana is worth checking out.

    Asana dashboard
     

Summary

Finding a to‑do list or project management app that works for visually‑inclined people can be difficult. Kanban is a productivity system that’s built to be visual and is available through many free apps and services, making it easy to use and always accessible for church efforts.

 

Dan Wunderlich

— Rev. Dan Wunderlich is an extension minister focused on worship, communication, and creativity with the goal of helping ministries and their leaders better connect with their communities. Find out more about his work and his podcast "Art of the Sermon" at DefiningGrace.com and tune in as he hosts the twice-monthly MyCom Church Marketing Podcast.